REGINA - The Saskatchewan Roughriders are quickly developing a reputation as the escape artists of the Canadian Football League.
Reminiscent of their game against the Edmonton Elks where a wild finish resulted in a 12-11 Riders comeback win, the Riders managed another Houdini-esque win over the Ottawa Redblacks 26-24 on Sunday in a game that almost got away from them in the fourth quarter.
For most of the game it was the Riders who set the tone, with the Redblacks seemingly unable to get much going most of the night. They had come into the game with a reputation for a strong running game, but that was neutralized by the Riders defence. They hounded Redblacks quarterback Dustin Crum and sacked him six times, three of those coming courtesy of Anthony Lanier II.
The Riders took a 23-11 lead on the strength of two touchdowns by quarterback Mason Fine — one an opening drive ending with a Jamal Morrow touchdown to give the Riders an early 7-1 lead, and the other was a long touchdown toss to Shaun Bane Jr. to start the second half, giving the Riders a 20-8 lead.
“I just wish we would have carried that momentum more throughout the game,” was quarterback Fine’s reaction afterwards.
Riders’ mistakes almost gave the game away, with short-yardage situations being a particular issue. In the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Jake Dolegala, coming in on a short yardage situation, fumbled the ball away and it was picked up by Douglas Coleman III who ran into the ‘Riders end zone for a touchdown. That made it 23-21.
Then in the final three minutes, with the Roughriders pinned deep in their own end and with the Redblacks poised to be in good field goal position if the Riders punted the ball, the decision was made to go for it on 3rd and one from their own 19 — and they didn’t make it.
Roughriders fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing as the Riders turned it over on downs, setting up a chance at an Ottawa victory.
The Redblacks promptly marched it down to the Riders’ one yard line. But facing a third and goal from the one situation, Redblacks coach Bob Dyce opted for the sure field goal instead of going for a touchdown. That made it 24-23 Ottawa with just over a minute to go.
That was enough time for a long Mario Alford return and a final Riders drive down to the Ottawa 46. But the Riders could get no further, leaving kicker Brett Lauther facing a difficult long 54-yard field goal attempt.
To the delight of the fans, Lauther’s kick went straight through, his fourth field goal of the night.
The Riders defence then spent the final half-minute doing what they were able to do all night — frustrate the Redblacks offence to preserve a 26-24 win.
It was yet another nail biter Riders finish this season. Head Coach Craig Dickenson lamented it “didn’t need to be that way.”
“We had the game in control and we let them back in. But I’ll say this. Our guys keep playing, and there wasn’t any negativity on the sideline even when we went down. They kept working and encouraging each other.”
The final score bailed Dickenson out for the decision to go for it on third and one at the 19. But it also meant Ottawa coach Dyce was on the receiving end of the second-guessing for his decision to take the field goal instead of go for the touchdown.
“I was very happy they kicked the field goal,“ was Dickenson’s reaction to that play. “I was banking on that.”
Dickenson explained that was a reason why the Riders had decided not to punt on the third and one play at the 19. The thinking was if they didn’t make it, they could still hold Ottawa to a field goal and then have enough time to kick a field goal themselves to win it.
For Fine, it was his first win as starter for the team; Dickenson told reporters Fine had gotten the game ball afterwards.
“I think he deserved it. The guy just keeps plugging away back there, makes a lot of good throws, never seems to lose his confidence or his belief in his teammates. I was very pleased to see him get that win today."
The result moves the Riders to 4-4 on the season, as they head east Friday night to take on the Alouettes led by an old friend: quarterback Cody Fajardo.
Head Coach Craig Dickenson
On the short yardage woes:
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get a yard when we need it. So we’ll look at it and it’ll be something that I’ll study this next week. We don’t have a lot of time to get ready for Montreal but we have to figure a way to get a yard…. That’s something we’ve got to get better at, for sure.”
“…Really proud of our team for sticking together, not pointing fingers, finding a way to win at the end. And then you got to credit Ottawa for how resilient they were… in my mind, just telling people after the game, that’s like the last team you want to give hope to, right? The last couple of weeks they’ve made big comebacks and stuff, so you’ve got to credit Ottawa on how resilient they were, but also our team for a good job of sticking together.”
On the talk from fans about the quarterback position:
“I’m sure they’ll still be noise after the game,right? There is always going to be noise. I’m just going to keep my head down, keep working, try and get better week in and week out. And I think I got better this week from last week and I’m going to continue to focus on myself, continue to grow as a leader for that sideline."
On the winning field goal:
“Yeah, that’s what I live for. I can’t really compare it to anything else. I’m not going to be playing forever so just I’m going to try and enjoy it while I can —it’s an unimaginable high to be out there in front of everyone and to get a win for the guys, it feels great.”