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Riders eliminated, head into an uncertain offseason

Riders Postgame: Major changes anticipated after Roughriders lose 29-26 to Toronto, ending their season out of the playoffs.
Craig Dickenson on the sidelines for possibly the last time as Roughriders head coach against Toronto Oct. 21.

REGINA - The Saskatchewan Roughriders have run out of opportunities to nail down the CFL’s final playoff spot, as they lose their final game of the season 29-26 to the Toronto Argonauts. 

With the defeat, Calgary clinched third place in the West and the Riders are eliminated from playoff contention with a 6-12 record. They now head into an offseason of uncertainty, with the prospect of potential sweeping changes within the organization. 

Head Coach Craig Dickenson’s postgame press conference at Mosaic Stadium almost sounded like a farewell.

“I think we had really high expectations, high hopes this year," Dickenson told reporters. "And I know we worked really hard this off-season to try and get the right guys with the right character and the right skill set. I think we did that for the most part. We felt like we were that close the whole season and just couldn’t for some reason get over the hump.”

Dickenson said he felt “bad for the men in that locker room because they worked their tails off this year. They came to work every day with a good attitude, wanting to be there, wanting to do more. There’s a sign above our locker room, saying 'I’m in' and they were all in, all in from the get-go. Just didn’t do enough this year. Just didn’t coach well enough, didn’t play well enough at times, and it just didn’t turn out like we hoped.”

Unlike some of the recent performances where the Riders were blown out, this time they had the lead for most of the game. They scored an opening touchdown and led 17-16 at the half, and even though the Argos took the lead early in the third quarter, the Riders still responded to take a 26-22 lead.

The Riders also didn’t have Argos quarterback Chad Kelly to worry about, as he left the game with a foot injury in the third quarter.

But even with Kelly out, the Argos found a way to get in the end zone late on a Dan Adeboboye touchdown with under a minute left, to make it 29-26. The Riders never recovered from that, and ultimately the clock struck zero on the Riders season.

Quarterback Jake Dolegala went all the way in the contest for the Riders and had a strong performance on offence, throwing for 436 yards. But turnovers including a late interception sealed the Riders’ fate.

“Just not good enough football,” said Dolegala, who acknowledged in the locker room there was “a lot of uncertainty in there.”

“This profession’s a revolving door. There’s always somebody out there looking to replace you. Guys are not only playing for each other but they’re playing for themselves in that aspect. And  you know we’re going to look back at this game and (we’re) going to say ‘oh I could’ve done this, this would have looked better on tape,’ and all that, but I give props to those guys. They played with so much effort tonight and energy. We played as a team tonight.”

“Losing, it’s never fun," said receiver Shawn Bane Jr., who along with Sam Emilus recorded over 1,000 yards in receiving in this game, but it was not enough.

“It’s super frustrating because we’re so talented you know. It’s hard to come in day after day and just not be able to see the fruit of your labors. It is what it is. We’ve got to keep pushing, but yeah, it’s definitely rough.”

The Roughriders ended the season with their seventh loss in a row -- an exact replica of what transpired in 2022.

“It seems like déjà vu,” said Larry Dean, pointing to the similar ending to the 2022 season.

“We won’t have a seat at the table. That’s the end goal, you know, just to have a chip and a chair. But we don’t have anything, so you know, that’s always disappointing.”

“At the end of the day it’s all on me,” coach Dickenson acknowledged about the 2023 losing streak that ended their season. “It was a different team, but we didn’t win any more games. We felt like the formula was to get a little better character-wise and I thought we did. We tried to get a little more emphasis on the offensive line, and I felt like we did, but it didn’t translate into wins. So at the end of the day, the season was a failure. We didn’t get where we wanted to… give us an F on that.”

Now the waiting game begins to find out whether Dickenson or other key members of the Riders organization will be back. Dickenson told reporters he hadn’t had discussions with General Manager Jeremy O’Day.

“I’m going to go home tonight, going to have a good dinner. I’ll be in tomorrow, watching film and go from there. The people who make the decisions will make the decisions, and I respect whatever direction they decide to go. I’ve enjoyed every minute here, and I hope to continue to coach here. But if that’s not the way they go, I leave with no regrets.”

He said his message to the players was that he was “proud of them, I felt like they fought hard every day.” As for his message to the fans who have stuck with this team and are disappointed today, Dickenson said:

“I appreciate them, just like the players. It didn’t work out like we wanted, either, and we appreciate their support. I want to let them know we did everything we could this year to try and win and give them a product they could be proud of. It didn’t turn out as we hoped, but we’re working our tails off to try to win not only for the guys in that locker room but for this city, this organization, this province — hopefully they can be proud of the effort given.”

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