Riders make a statement in making playoffs

October 24, 2017 - 8:57am

It was one of those “Holy Crap” moments Friday night that have made being a Saskatchewan Roughrider fan worth it.

The Rider defense had been putting the brakes on the Calgary Stampeder offense while Brandon Bridge, despite throwing two interceptions, had been moving the Rider offense against a hard rushing Calgary defense. The Riders had benefited from a punt return for a touchdown from Christian Jones and all eyes were on how Duron Carter was playing cornerback and when Bo Levi Mitchell would try to rip him to shreds. The Riders held a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter in a game that saw rain, wet snow and generally typical October conditions.

It seemed that another touchdown would put Calgary back into it and memories of how they came back against Hamilton were no doubt strong in the minds of Stampeder fans and players.

And then it happened.

On a second and eight, Mitchell threw it towards the sideline (underthrew it actually) and there Carter was, making the interception. Then Carter ran it through the shocked Stampeder offense and scored a touchdown that survived a challenge from renowned complainer Dave Dickenson.

At that point the game was over, except for a safety given up by Calgary.

It was the unlikely culmination of a week that started with a story about a fight in practice between Carter and linebacker Sam Williams, which then got expanded into Carter being sent home with receiver Bakari Grant and lineman Derek Dennis. So while there was a fight at practice, it was downplayed by the club and when the Riders announced Carter was going to play defensive back, then it started a Twitter exchange between him and Mitchell.

It wasn’t clear until kickoff whether Chris Jones plans to play Carter were an elaborate ruse to take the media attention off the supposed shennagins with Rider players. What happened was Calgary didn’t concentrate on exposing Carter’s lack of defensive back experience, preferring to follow their usual game plan. But with Marques McDaniel not being in the lineup, Calgary seemed to lack confidence in their receiving corps and their usual practice of winning ugly finally failed them. The last time the Riders had such a good time in Calgary was the 2013 western final and this game seeing the end of the Calgary 17 game home winning streak and Mitchell’s undefeated streak over the Riders served notice the Riders have bounced back after blowing the game the week before against Ottawa.

On a relatively short week, the Riders will be sitting Naaman Roosevelt for another week for precautionary concussion reasons while the insertion of Chad Owens helped pick up some of the slack with the absence of Carter and Roosevelt.

Then the Riders also have the option of Chris Getzlaf who signed last week with the Riders and provides some Canadian depth and leadership should the Riders need it in their playoff run. Now the Riders are faced with a 9-7 record, one game behind the Edmonton Eskimos with the final game of the season likely determining who will finish in third place. There are those who say finishing fourth and crossing over to the east would be the easier route to take to the Grey Cup, but after watching the games this weekend, that is not necessarily accurate.

Toronto beat Winnipeg 29-28, helped by Justin Medlock getting the yips on his final field goal attempt, while Ottawa has been building a more solid second half of the season. Ottawa went 2-6-1 in the first half of the season, but has been 5-3 so far in the second half with one game to go. Toronto for its part went 4-5 in the first half of the season, which all things considering was reasonable, and has been 4-4 in the second half with one game to go. Both Ottawa and Toronto have been playing better football and are clearly not the patsies that some might imagine heading into the playoffs. In the west Winnipeg has started to experience some injury problems and some execution problems which goes with a team that has won close games it could have easily lost.

In that sense, Winnipeg is like Calgary the last few weeks, winning some ugly games but have also lost a game against Toronto it should have won. Calgary is interesting because this game is the first loss at home in two years and Calgary has been been the dominant team offensively that it was a year ago. Maybe that is due to some shoulder injury to Mitchell, maybe due to to some revolving doors at the receiver position. Setting aside the laws of averages which state Calgary had to lose sometime at home, what was interesting was the discipline penalties Calgary incurred.

Those present the blueprint of beating Calgary which is running the ball, a lot of zone defense and taking advantage of opportunities. All of these are easier said than done, but for the first time, the possibility this may not be a cakewalk for Calgary has been raised. So going through the west might be preferable, but for a team that has not been in the playoffs since 2014, it’s a nice thing to talk playoffs again. And let’s not forget beating Calgary in Calgary – if that doesn’t send a message the Riders are ready to play with the contenders, nothing else does.

So the Rider win over Calgary eliminated BC, who folded like a cheap suit in overtime against Edmonton, but sets out some games this week with definite playoff implications. On Friday the first game is Hamilton at Ottawa and this is Ottawa’s last game of the regular season and a chance to move into first place, pending Toronto’s last game of the season against BC. Hamilton demolished Montreal, but then again, who hasn’t, but Hamilton would like to end their season on a positive note as the team faces a number of changes for next season. If Ottawa fans are as superstious as Rider fans, a win puts them at 8-9-1, which is what they had last year heading into the playoffs and taking the Grey Cup. That might work to mollify Ottawa fans as a quirk of scheduling has them facing a bye next week, and if they finish first, then would not play for another three weeks until the eastern final. This should be a competitive game and while a Hamilton win is entirely possible, Ottawa’s win over Saskatchewan combined with the prospect of at least forcing Toronto to go west to clinch first gives Ottawa more to play for in this game.

Ottawa wins a competitive game 30-24 to move into first place for at least a week, even with Brad Sinopoli out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. The second game Friday is Montreal at Saskatchewan, which at this point will be notable to see if Darian Durant gets a chance to step out onto new Mosaic Stadium and perhaps say goodbye to Rider fans until he makes the teams’ Plaza of Honour. Durant is clearly out of his depth in Montreal and being replaced last week has to make him think if he is in the team’s plans in 2018, he will have to take a salary cut if he hopes to continue playing and perhaps find some redemption.

It would appear that Chris Jones was correct in letting Durant go and it is ironic the Riders quarterback troika is made up of quarterbacks who were in Montreal last season.

That says a lot for Montreal unable to either recognize or develop talent and Durant better recognize his win against the Riders in the first game was the high point of his season. Last year Montreal came to Taylor Field and in a very cold rain beat the Riders with Vernon Adams Jr. making his second start. Durant might be able to call on his football gods to help him make this appearance matter, but Durant is trending down while the Riders are trending up.

Kevin Glenn will start, Duron Carter will see two way duty, the Riders may well start Chris Getzlaf and drive Durant out of the game after the first quarter. The Riders win this one with Brandon Bridge mopping up in a 30-21 game, but the score could be worse as Montreal slides out of the 2017 season. On Saturday BC goes to Winnipeg and for Winnipeg, choking against Toronto has got to be aggravating. For BC, choking against Edmonton and coughing up a lead doesn’t seem to bother them as much.

For Winnipeg, the big thing will be winning to clinch second place. BC is strangely disinterested and right now are playing for film for auditions elsewhere. The BC ownership situation, which will not be settled apparently until some concussion lawsuits are settled, means the future of the BC coaching staff and Wally Buono is up in the air. One might think Buono after missing the playoffs would want a chance to get some redemption, but if Kent Austin lost the Hamilton dressing room, then Buono seems to have lost the BC locker room.

The bloom has gone off of Jon Jennings and with Travis Lulay injured, Buono didn’t have any other option but hope Jennings could play himself out of his slump. BC had been playing Winnipeg rather well, but again, Winnipeg has something to play for – second place and a home playoff game. That should result in a 30-27 win over BC, who might take advantage of some Winnipeg injuries, but don’t have the ability to capitalize on those injuries. Finally we have Calgary at Edmonton and if Winnipeg clinches second place, then Edmonton will have to ask themselves if the second time is the charm going through the eastern conference.

If Edmonton is tied with the Riders, then the Riders finish third and Edmonton hits the road. Edmonton and Saskatchewan meet in the last game of the regular season in what should be an interesting game. In the meantime Jason Maas, the biggest five year old coach in professional football, wants to see if his team can capitalize on Calgary getting beat in their home park. Edmonton is coming off an overtime win against a disinterested BC team, but don’t let that discourage Maas. Calgary will be looking to correct the offensive misfiring that cost them against the Riders and perhaps even running the ball more if they are able.

Edmonton will be looking to make their own statement, but while Edmonton has won three in a row, they will be the victims of bad timing as Calgary will seek to make its own statement after losing to the Riders. Calgary wins this one 30-23 and sets up the Edmonton-Saskatchewan game for third place in the west and the discussion of whether a team is smarter going through the east or perhaps going through a battered western conference.

See below Rider drills and the skeleton of the old stadium, scheduled to go down on Friday.

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