In just his second start in the CFL, the second-year quarterback rallied the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a thrilling 35-32 victory in overtime over the Ottawa Redblacks at a sold-out Mosaic Stadium on Sunday.
Sunseri engineered a last-minute touchdown drive that tied the game at 32-32 and then set up the winning field goal by Chris Milo in overtime.
"I never saw doubt in his eyes," Riders head coach Corey Chamblin said of his quarterback.
Milo's game-winning kick in overtime was a 22-yard boot and it was his second opportunity to win the game. On the Riders' first overtime possession, he had to deal with a bad snap and his 37-yard attempt sailed wide.
Redblacks kicker Kicker Brett Maher had his game-tying, 37-yard field goal attempt blocked.
"We came in here at halftime and looked each other in the eye and said, 'Shoot, that's not how we wanted the first half to go,'" Sunseri said. "But we had 30 more minutes to put our statement on this game."
The Riders mustered just 26 yards passing in the first half and were booed off the field as they trailed 22-10 at halftime. In his first start a week ago in Hamilton, Sunseri struggled mightily. He managed just nine completions and 88 yards on 22 pass attempts in a 28-3 loss to the Tiger-Cats.
But Sunseri found a groove in the second half on Sunday.
On his team's first possession of the third quarter, Sunseri hooked up with Will Ford on a 23-yard touchdown strike. Sunseri's second touchdown toss of the second half came early in the fourth quarter and stirred talk of a possible comeback by the home team. A 60-yard passing play to Weston Dressler pulled the Riders to within five at 29-24.
After a late field goal from Maher that pushed the Ottawa lead to 32-24, Sunseri's stage was set for a thrilling, last-minute scoring drive.
Sunseri completed passes to Dressler, Brett Swain and Chris Getzlaf before a pass interference penalty moved the Riders to the Ottawa one-yard line with 54 seconds remaining in regulation. One play later, running back Anthony Allen plunged ahead for a one-yard touchdown run to pull the Riders to within two at 32-30. Dressler caught the two-point convert to pull the Riders even.
"Whatever game you put us in, we're going to keep fighting," Riders' defensive lineman Tearrius George said after his team improved to 9-3. "That's why I love playing with these guys.
"And it's a big thing for (Sunseri), especially after that first week. Everybody had worries, but we see him play every day and I'm glad he had a big game. Some starting quarterbacks wouldn't have been able to do what he did today, pulling out the win late like he did."
Serenaded by the fans with chants of "Hen-ry, Hen-ry," former Roughriders quarterback Henry Burris was a one-man offensive show for the Redblacks. Burris was 23-for-38 passing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 22 yards and a touchdown.
The 32 points scored was a season-high for the Redblacks. Their previous high came in Week 2 in a 36-28 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But Burris' effort on this day was overshadowed by that of Sunseri's.
"It stings because we had this game won," Burris said, after his team fell to 1-10 on the season. "We took it down to the wire and we just have to be a better team in the fourth quarter and be able to finish things off. That comes with learning how to win games."
Wallace Miles caught two touchdowns for Ottawa as the team built a commanding 22-10 lead in the first half. Jeremiah Johnson also caught a touchdown pass from Burris, which restored a 12-point advantage at 29-17 midway through the third quarter.
Dressler had two touchdowns on the day, both of the big-play variety. His 78-yard punt return for a major was his second touchdown of the season on special teams. His 60-yard catch and run saw him break four tackles along the sideline before he raced into the end zone. The veteran slotback finished the day with seven receptions for 125 yards.
The Riders will travel to Edmonton on Friday to take on the Eskimos. Meanwhile, the Redblacks will play host to the Montreal Alouettes later this week.