REGINA - The Saskatchewan Roughriders silenced the critics Sunday night, as they managed a 34-29 win over the high-flying BC Lions.
After their miserable performance a week earlier in Montreal, the Roughriders looked like a team with something to prove and came out firing all night, ultimately taking down the heavily favored Lions who had entered the game with a 7-2 record. It was a contest in which the Riders showed well in all aspects, on offence, defence and special teams.
In his first start since coming in for the injured Trevor Harris and Mason Fine, quarterback Jake Dolegala threw for three touchdowns and 239 yards. On defence, the Riders got five quarterback sacks on Vernon Adams, Jr. compared to one for BC.
The first sack saw the Riders force a fumble that set up the first Riders major: a Kian Schaffer-Baker touchdown catch. The last sack came on a 3rd and 20 situation deep in BC territory with 55 seconds left, which more or less sealed up the game as a Brett Lauther field goal with five seconds left capped the 34-29 win.
In between were some incredible individual performances, with Anthony Lanier II coming up big on sacks. Dolegala managed fireworks with deep throws for touchdowns to Jerreth Sterns and to Sam Emilus, whose jump-ball catch in traffic resulted in what would prove to be the winning touchdown in the third quarter.
“That was something else,” said Head Coach Craig Dickenson to reporters afterwards. “From my perspective it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. I thought it was possibly an interception waiting to happen, and he just went up and over and somehow caught that thing at its highest point. It was an outstanding play. He got the game ball for offence, I thought Sam played the best game I’ve seen him play as a pro.”
“He’s a stud,” said Dolegala afterwards of Emilus. “There’s no other way to put it.”
But after that play, the Lions slowly but surely clawed their way back, thanks to a strong performance from Adams who threw for 455 yards and three touchdown passes of his own.
That led to yet another nail biter of a finish for the Roughriders, but that didn’t particularly bother Dickenson. He said he thought this was the best game he’d seen Adams play in a “long long time.”
“He was throwing dimes. I mean, we have guys who were covering well, we have people in his face, and he was just throwing bullets.”
In the end, the game saw a far more energetic Roughrider performance compared to their lethargic 41-12 shellacking last week against the Montreal Alouettes. The 34 points against B.C. were the most the Riders have put up in a game all season.
The Roughriders are now 5-5, third in the West, and now have some breathing room between themselves and the other teams behind them fighting for playoff spots. The Roughriders head to the bye week, and now get a week off to rest before they head back to work the following week to prepare for Labour Day weekend and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“It’s huge going into the bye week," said Dolegala. "Guys can rest up. We’ve stopped feeling sorry for ourselves anymore. We know we’re still in this race, and coming back we know we’ve got a tough opponent two weeks in a row, and I think guys will be focused.”
Head Coach Craig Dickenson:
”We felt like this is obviously a really big game, so we put a lot of eggs into this basket. I thought we came out fired up, playing hard, being physical, and really setting the tone early. We had to hang on at the end and there are things that we can learn from that, but I was really proud of the men in that room. They stayed together the entire time and really willed themselves to a victory tonight.”
“I think guys went into this weekend with a really good positive attitude, and we were just confident. We had nothing to lose really, and I think that was the biggest key.”
On the deep throws: “You know, when you’ve got a room of receivers like we do, the easiest thing to do is to give them a shot and trust them that they’re going to come down with it, and you saw it with Sam (Emilus), you saw it with a bunch of these guys that were out there. It makes my job a lot easier, but it’s trust in them that you put it up there, they’re going to come down with it.”
“That first half, we were doing pretty well as a whole and then that second half I felt like we lulled a little bit. I missed a couple of throws, but we found ways to keep the ball moving and win.”
On the defence: “They did it for us all night really. Props to them, they played a hell of a game. They bailed us out at the end there, so this is a defensive win. I know it’s a team win, but I give it all to the defence.”
On what was working for him that night: “Just energy, man. Especially Kian (Schaffer-Baker) coming back, I think that brought a lot of energy and man, we just made the plays today and had fun.”
“Jake was amazing, man… he had a great game, great reads, and managed the game well.”
“Truly a blessing. I’ve got to give all the thanks and glory and honour to God, without Him I wouldn’t be out there and it’s just truly a great feeling just to be out there…”
On the touchdown: “Yeah, I landed just shy and I wasn’t near the end zone, so I said let me just roll before someone touches it quick and I got in there, so it was just truly a blessing.”
On the 34 points scored: “That’s just a starter for us. We’re just going to keep building off that and keep learning from that. There were a lot of plays where we could have put up more points, so we’re going to go back, watch all the film and make corrections.”
On Dolegala: “He’s that guy. He’s that dude now. He’s the best in the league and he’s going to continue to work and keep chasing that.”