Well it turned out the Saskatchewan Roughriders had more than a chance last Sunday evening against the B.C. Lions. When all around, including myself, were doubting the team, they played their best game of the season against the Lions. Each unit and Head Coach Craig Dickenson contributed to the Aug. 20 victory, which the Riders won 34-29.
On offence Jake Dolegala looked nothing like the quarterback who struggled mightily against the Montreal Alouettes. In feverish Saskatchewan one good game has the province anointing him to start against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Not long ago it was Mason Fine to be the saviour. Dolegala was aided by some great individual plays.
Kian Schaffer-Baker scored the first touchdown as he curled between a pair of defenders. He said he kind of ran the wrong route. He ran more of a bender route when he was supposed to go more over the top. Dolegala had no problem with the adjustment as he was watching Schaffer-Baker the whole play.
Beyond the touchdown he was excited to be back on the field. He said it was a great feeling to be out there with his brothers. A religious man, he has crosses daubed on each cheek. He said they represent him giving glory and honour to God.
Running back, Jamal Morrow, had the second Rider touchdown on a nifty eight yard run. He started up the middle before cutting hard to the left and was untouched to the end zone. He said he could go right or left. He looked to be going right and the Lions were pushing hard that way. When he saw the hole to the left he planted and was gone. Lion defensive end Mathieu Betts took himself out of the play by going straight ahead. It was the move of an alert running back not just pounding the ball forward but watching for an opening.
Wide receiver Samuel Emilus made a pair of long spectacular catches. The second was for a touchdown that appeared to be going to be an interception to Dickenson and everyone else in the stadium until Emilus took flight. Dolegala said Emilus has a 45” vertical. When Emilus snatched the ball both defenders were left startled and watched him go into the end zone. He said it was a trap coverage with the halfback on top. He continued it was like he stole a cookie from the cookie jar. He said playing sports such as basketball helped prepare him to go up in the air to make plays. He added that his vertical is actually 37.5”.
On defence the Rider secondary certainly gave up some big plays but the defensive line was stout. They were driving hard.
Micah Johnson led the charge on a second and 2 in the third quarter when he stopped running back, Taquan Mizzell. He drove B.C. guard, Andrew Peirson, back. Johnson said he was hoping to be 1 on 1 and used straight power. He said Peirson had such a grip on him that he could not get his arms up to tackle Mizzell so he put his facemask to the side and stopped Mizzell. It was like Mizzell hit a wall.
The Riders ran more blitzes than usual, especially in the second half. Several were not successful but defensive co-ordinator Jason Shivers kept calling them and making small adjustments as the game progressed. Johnson said they would change angles, shift who comes and who shows.
On the last series, with the game on the line, the Riders they got the pressure they wanted. More important defensive halfback Deontal Williams finally covered Keon Hatcher closely coming across the middle on second down and forced an incompletion. On third down they looked to be blitzing but then did not come with extra rushers. Anthony Lanier II, left one on one, blew around the end for the 5th Rider sack of Vernon Adams.
On special teams the Riders were going hard all night. While a forced fumble of a kickoff set up a Rider touchdown in the second quarter most will remember T.J. Brunson’s hellacious hit on punt coverage as the special teams play of the game.
As with Schaffer-Baker, he was excited to get on the field playing again. He said he wanted to hit something and, when he got his chance, he attacked. It was one of those special plays when you heard the stadium go “oh!”.
Dickenson had a role in firing up the special teams. He said he challenged them to destroy who was in front of you. He said we are going to kick right and expect the coverage to be there. They fulfilled his mission. Jeremy O’Day gave the coach a game ball.
On Sunday night the Riders attacked the Lions. On Labour Day we find out if they can maintain that attack attitude.
Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.
SASKTODAY.ca is Saskatchewan's home page. Bookmark us at this link.