Kienan LaFrance has overcome injury, frustration and the possibility of losing playing time to a former NFL first-round pick to become the late-game workhorse for the resurgent Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Thanks to two recent, high-production fourth quarters, the third-year CFLer has helped power the Roughriders above .500 to an 8-6 record and into contention for a playoff spot at third place in the West division.
LaFrance and the Roughriders will look to ride that momentum into Friday’s game against his former team, the Ottawa Redblacks (6-9), in Regina Friday night.
Two weeks ago, LaFrance and the Roughriders erased a 17-point deficit in Ottawa to beat the Redblacks 18-17. They followed that with another come-from-behind win against Toronto a week later, as LaFrance’s fourth-quarter ball carrying set up Tyler Crapigna’s winning field goal in a 27-24 victory.
“We’ve been playing some good ball lately, but I think that to win every game in the last quarter of the season, we need to look forward to be able to play well in all aspects,” LaFrance said in anticipation of Friday’s rematch with his former team.
The 2017 season has been one of progression for the Winnipeg-born rusher, who won the East Division championship and the Grey Cup with the Redblacks last year, rushing for 230 yards over those two games.
A training camp leg injury kept the 26-year-old off the Riders’ game-day roster for the first four games of the season. He had to wait until the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg on Sept. 9 to get the start at running back after teammate Cameron Marshall went down with an injury.
“No one wants to be injured. It was a little bit frustrating at the beginning,” he said. “I had to get over it a couple of times. And as cliche as it sounds, it develops the person I am today as just being able to overcome that stuff. I’ve been playing for a few weeks now, and it didn’t stop the flow for myself.”
His perseverance and patience have paid off. The Riders’ coaching staff chose LaFrance over newly signed former NFLer Trent Richardson to carry the load for his team in each of its last two fourth quarters.
Over those two frames, LaFrance tallied 77 total yards and one touchdown, along with significant carries to grind down the game clock.
“I’m not gonna lie, That’s what I expected going into the game, that’s what I expect every day,” he said of his fourth-quarter play.
LaFrance said the signing of Richardson – the third-overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft – two weeks ago is just part of putting the team in the best position to win games.
“I can’t really look at it as a shot to me or as a disrespect thing. But when it comes to playing and it comes to what I’m here to do, I’m here to play and I’m here to do my job. And I believe I have the confidence in myself to not be surprised when they put me in that situation,” he said.
Roughriders’ head coach Chris Jones likes his offence’s dependability on the ground of late.
“I told our offensive line today, ‘statistically we don’t look like a team that’s able to run the ball.’ But it was there when we needed it down the stretch against a very good Toronto defence at home, (the Riders’) second game on the road.
“We played very well and we were able to control the football.”
LaFrance noted that to win on Friday, his team will need a well-rounded game from all three aspects of his team.
“(Ottawa has) a good defence. Tip your hat to those guys – they stop the run well, they have good DBs. Just overall, their defence needs respect.
“We need to go out and play our game, and touch on all aspects of running and passing and special teams,” he said.
NOTES: Despite recent success from backup Canadian quarterback Brandon Bridge, Jones squelched a potential quarterback controversy by confirming Kevin Glenn will start on Friday…Recent NFL returnee Jeff Knox Jr. will get his first start of the year at weak-side linebacker due to an injury to regular Sam Eguavoen.