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Riders preseason curse broken, thanks to a spirited QB battle

Riders Postgame: Final score of Preseason Game One is Saskatchewan Roughriders 30, BC Lions 27.

REGINA - There was something different about the Saskatchewan Roughriders preseason win over the BC Lions on Saturday: they actually won the game.

It had been nine years, going back to a 21-17 win over Ottawa Redblacks in 2014, since the Roughriders had beaten anyone in preseason play.

That drought ended Saturday at Mosaic Stadium — fittingly, with both the win drought and the game ending at the precise moment that the heavens opened up and a long-predicted major rain and hailstorm fell on the Regina area. The Roughriders prevailed over the Lions 30-27, after trailing by as many as 11 points.

The story: Backup quarterback battle

A major story on this night was the continued preseason battles for roster spots. A major focus was on who would be the number two quarterback, and the players looking to take that spot had plenty of opportunity with the expected starter Trevor Harris not in the lineup. Harris was back in Ohio where his family welcomed their third child this week: a son, Tripp Joseph Harris.

As it turned out, all three of the backups who played Saturday had their strong moments. Jake Dolegala started the first half and looked sharp, completing 12 passes and scoring a touchdown on a one-yard run in the second quarter.

But with newly-acquired Dane Evans at the helm at quarterback, BC took the lead 10-9, thanks to a catch by Jevoni Robinson in the final minute of the first half.

BC extended the lead to 20-9 in the third quarter, but with Shea Patterson taking the reigns at quarterback for the third quarter, he found Keith Corbin III in the end zone to bring the Riders back to within three. 

In the fourth quarter, it was Mason Fine’s turn to show what he could do at quarterback, but he got off to an inauspicious start on his first play when he threw a pass right into the hands of former University of Regina Ram Ryder Varga. He marched 11 yards into the end zone to help BC to a 27-17 lead. 

But Fine showed the ability to bounce back the rest of the way, leading the team on two scoring drives that each ended with passes into the waiting arms of Mitch Picton in the corner of the end zone.

The Lions could not mount a comeback from that, as the Riders held on 30-27. Final passing stats saw Saskatchewan throw 30 of 41 for 284 yards. Dolegala went 12 for 17 for 97 yards and he ran for a touchdown; Patterson 10 for 14 for 77 yards and a touchdown, and Fine 8 for 10 for 110 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

The Riders had 21 rushing carries for 92 yards. The Riders also had two quarterback sacks, one interception from Deontai Williams and a fumble recovery from Kolby Harvell-Peel.

With each of the three quarterbacks showing sparks, it makes for even tougher decisions for Head Coach Craig Dickenson in the coming several days. Saturday's game was also likely their best shot at making an impression. At the next preseason game on the road in Winnipeg on June 2, the indication from Dickenson is that Harris will be getting most of the reps in that game, the last one before the start of the regular season.

Coach Craig Dickenson:

On the quarterback play: “I thought all three quarterbacks played very well… You’ve really got to look at the film and know what the play was that was called and really evaluate it. Are they going through the read correctly? Are they doing what you’re asking them to do? I thought all three quarterbacks played well. They probably had a couple of plays that they want back but for the most part I thought they played well…

“We are hoping that after watching the film, we can have a little bit of clarity. It may not be clear and that’s good when you have tough decisions to make.”

“Picton just keeps making plays. Mason, great comeback. You know, that touchdown at the end was the same play that he threw the interception on, same play. So that’s really a bounce back sort of play for him. I thought we ran the ball well tonight and I thought our offensive line played better. So lots of good things on there.”

On winning in preseason for the first time in nine years:

“Preseason, you know, you can’t put too much in it but anytime you win a game, especially when you’re trailing and come back and win the game, I think it’s good for the locker room. It’s good for the guys to feel like they can come back and win. I think anytime you can get used to winning that’s always a good thing. We know that wasn’t BC’s best guys, we know that. There is going to have to be a lot of improvement from us.”

Jake Dolegala:

“I feel like I played within myself — you know, a couple of mistakes here and there, but I think I made up for it with my legs. For the most part, we were able to throw the ball. I think we did what we wanted to do.”

On getting back into action, after last week’s Green and White Scrimmage was cut short by smoke conditions: 

“Once those first butterflies got out of my system, I think we were all able to settle into the game, and got the win.”

Mason Fine:

On coming back from the interception: “About the worst possible thing that could’ve happened happened. It’s like, I was done bad there for a minute. Obviously, you know, I had great teammates and coaches come over there and pick me up, and it was 'reset' and get that mentality back, and go out there and sling the ball. That’s what I’ve done in the past. I’m going to go out there and play my game and you know, I’m still going to go out there and play football. And I'm still going to sling it, whatever happens, happens... It’s been a lot of ups and down, but it was great to finish like that.”

On Picton: “ I mean, that last play, I looked his way. I trust Mitch, he’s going to be in the right position to make plays, and he’s the smartest guy on the football field... I think my first rookie year, my first five completions were to Mitch. So, I don’t know, I guess there may be some type of connection, but yeah, I can always trust Mitch, though.”

Shea Patterson:

On the quarterback competition: “I think competition’s relevant everywhere -- guys like this you see making big time plays in every league. Talent’s everywhere, and there’s a lot of talent up here and I think you’re seeing that in this quarterback position.”

On his own play: “You know, first couple of drives, a little rusty getting the kinks out, but I felt like as I got that second half going, and kind of got the party started with Keith (Corbin) on that touchdown, and let Mason just kind of go in there and do his thing — I’m really proud of him.”

On Corbin: “It felt really good. I felt like we needed a spark and I saw him get past his man and it was a no brainer.”

Keith Corbin III:

On playing in front of Rider Nation: “Man, it was crazy, man. I expected it. They told us the Riders are the best fans in the nation, in the CFL, and I was expecting it, and it was a good finish.”