For the first time in 11 years, the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the Labour Day Classic to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and they have no one to blame but themselves.
After doing nothing all season, kick returner Kendial Lawrence finally made his presence felt when he returned a punt to the house, tying the game at 25 with under 50 seconds to play. Lawrence seemed poised to join the likes of Kerry Joseph and Rocky Butler in Labour Day lore, the magic of Labour Day was set to live on.
Then, everything went wrong.
Kicker Tyler Crapigna missed the extra point, failing to give the Riders their first lead of the game. It might have been okay had Crapigna not missed two field goals already, had Crapigna hit those kicks, the Riders still would have had a six point lead. Bottom line, Crapigna picked the wrong time to have his worst game of the season, after previously missing just two field goals all season to date. Conversely, Bombers kicker Justin Medlock made seven of his eight field goal attempts, winning his team the game.
None, the less, the Riders still had a pretty good chance at sending the game to overtime and maybe win their second game of the season. A few plays later, defensive back Justin Cox appeared to have given his team that chance when he intercepted Matt Nichols in front of Weston Dressler, it’s bedlam in Mosaic Stadium, until that little orange flag is spotted on the field. Cox was called for pass interference on the play, it was a questionable call. The problem? Head coach Chris Jones couldn’t challenge the play after he had wasted his final challenge on a play that was clearly incomplete in the end zone to Naaman Roosevelt earlier in the game. Did Jones not watch the replay on the tablets on the sideline? The play was so obviously incomplete that you just knew that this wasted challenge was going to come back and hurt the Riders, and did it ever.
There’s no way to know if the call would have been overturned but given the inconsistency of calls out of the replay booth, it sure would have been nice for the Riders to have the chance.
These are the kinds of things that happen to a team that is now 1-9.
For the first time this season, you can say the Riders defence kept them in the game most of the afternoon. The defence bent but didn’t break, save for one explosive play, as Jones’ unit kept the Bombers out of the end zone most of the day. Winnipeg had to settle for field goals, which isn’t usually the way to win games but against the Riders it’s still possible. The defence also kept Andrew Harris below 100 yards rushing, which has to be considered a minor victory, even if he did make some key plays late.
Darian Durant showed the heart of a champion again. Yes, he threw two interceptions but upon first look it looked like his receivers were at fault on both plays. On his second pick, Durant was actually the one who made the tackle and popped the ball loose. There was no recovery, but you have to respect the hustle, how many quarterbacks would have just sat back and watched the play unfold? Durant threw for 399 yards, one touchdown and rushed for one more and a two point conversion.
One thing the Riders have to start doing better is their starts. The Riders have just six points in first half over the last two weeks. Getting off to a better start might have meant the missed field goals and coaching decisions might not have mattered.
Have the Riders finally found a mix of receivers? Roosevelt had himself another solid day with 97 yards through the air but he actually had some support from Caleb Holley, who had 121 yards and Ricky Collins Jr.’s 97 yards. Collins Jr. and Holley are still new and will have ups and downs as they grow in the CFL but the trio has some potential. Holley especially took a big step forward after having some big drops the last couple of weeks.