The doom and gloom is starting to be replaced with optimism in Saskatchewan thanks to the Riders latest win, a 20-18 triumph over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
No one is really getting ahead of themselves and thinking that the playoffs are now suddenly on the horizon after the Green and White won back-to-back games for the first time since the 2014 season, but there’s reason to believe that better days are ahead and that’s what counts.
What the Riders showed against Hamilton was mental toughness. Late in the third quarter when Darian Durant was forced to leave the game with a neck injury, you could have expected this team the fold. All the signs were there. After getting the ball to start the quarter, with a 17-10 lead and the wind at their back, the Riders ended up doing nothing offensively. We’ve seen this script before, the Riders hang around long enough only to lose it late. Hamilton did their part taking an 18-17 lead with under three minutes to play thanks to a brilliant short yardage call leaving Jeremiah Masoli with half the field to himself to score an easy touchdown. With little time left and backup quarterback Mitchell Gale in the game heading into the prairie wind, the odds seemed stacked. This time, this team overcame the odds as Gale led the Riders down the field, killing the entire clock in the process, for a game winning field goal from Tyler Crapigna.
Five weeks ago, the Riders reached the low point of their season during a 53-7 demolition at the hands of the Ticats in Hamilton. Since then, they have been making incremental improvements each week culminating in wins over the Edmonton Eskimos and Hamilton. Now, the Riders have a pretty good shot at improving upon their 3-15 record from last season, something that seemed improbable just a month ago.
This team still has a long ways to go before they can be considered a threat to make the playoffs but rebuilding teams need to be able to sell hope for the future, the Riders can do that now.
Head coach Chris Jones deserves some credit for rolling the dice late in the game and believing in his team. With third and a fraction of an inch to go, conventional wisdom would suggest kick the field goal and take the lead. Instead, Jones sent out the short yardage unit, which has struggled at times this season, and went for the first down which would have given them control of the final few seconds of the game. Gale and company rewarded their coach by picking up the first down, something they didn’t do earlier this season in Edmonton, giving Hamilton no control over whether they would hang on for the win or not. No one would have blamed Jones for playing it safe but going for it was the right call and this time it worked.
Darian Durant will be the first to admit he didn’t have best effort last week, no matter how windy it was. This week, Durant looked more like himself. Durant even told reporters after the game that he felt it’s the best he’s played since the 2013 Grey Cup. It’s hard to argue with him as Durant completed nearly 75% of his passes for 326 yards and a touchdown in two-plus quarters of work. According to Durant, he was held out as a precaution. The Riders now have a bye week meaning the pivot should have plenty of time to rest up for the final five games.
Durant might be getting more comfortable with Stephen McAdoo’s offence. Without star receiver Naaman Roosevelt and first year contributor Ricky Collins Jr. Durant struggled to find receivers last week. This week, Durant and Gale did a great job spreading the wealth with four receivers racking up at least 60 yards, with three guys surpassing the 85 yard mark.
Crapigna must be feeling pretty good right about now. Just a few weeks ago, the Nepean, ON native was the goat after missing a pair of field goals and a convert in the Labour Day Classic. Those misses proved costly in the loss. This time around, Crapigna had the game on his foot again, and he did not miss. It’s his second last second game winning field goal this year, hitting on earlier in the year against Ottawa. Bad games happen, the good ones rebound, and Crapigna has since Labour Day weekend.
It’s safe to say the Riders defence has officially turned the corner. For much of the first half of the season, the unit was dreadful. The Riders haven’t allowed more than 30 points since the week before Labour Day against the Edmonton Eskimos. The green gang has also kept their opponent below 20 points in two of their last three games. The turnovers are starting to come as well with Ed Gainey adding another pick against Hamilton. The defensive line even showed a little aggression, most notably Johnathon Newsome, who rag-dolled left tackle Terrence Campbell most of the night.