All eyes in Vancouver were on some familiar faces as the Riders rolled past the Lions.
Long-time Leos Solomon Elimimian and Emmanuel Arceneaux returned to the den, where they played a combined 124 career games, for the first time since being jettisoned in the off-season. The two were acknowledged pre-game on the jumbotron and received a warm ovation from the crowd, a testament to the impact both players had on the local community.
“There’s a lot of love here and appreciation to all the fans that came out. A lot of No. 56 jerseys out there,” Elimimian said post-game.
“It was a special time for me, Manny and Dyshawn [Davis], some of the guys that were seeing familiar faces. Ex-teammates, support staff, just so many people that made my time here so memorable.”
It didn’t take long for the former heart and soul of the Lions’ defence to make his presence felt on the field, either. Elimimian notched a bone-rattling sack on just the second play from scrimmage and led a stifling defensive performance by the Riders.
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“Its always going to be sweeter when you spend so much time in one place and then you go to a different place,” Elimimian acknowledged regarding the sack.
“So, obviously it’s going to be a little bit more emotional because of everything I said, seeing friends and ex-teammates, you know, family.”
Riders head coach Craig Dickenson admitted post-game that the team knew what this game meant for their middle linebacker.
“It’s a small league, he knows a lot of those guys over there, so we knew he’d be motivated and inspired to come out and play his best game.”
Elimimian wasn’t about to take credit for the defence’s play, however.
“Shout out to coach [Jason] Shivers, first-year defensive coordinator but somebody who is putting guys in positions to make plays. Guys really enjoy playing for him. We were short-staffed a defensive line coach so, you know what, guys just bought in.”
As for the other high-profile returnee, Arceneaux was targeted twice and recorded one catch for six yards. But the lack of production did not concern his head coach.
“Manny is doing what he needs to do to help the team win. We talked about it in the locker room. It’s amazing what a group can accomplish — I didn’t say this I repeated it — when nobody cares who’s getting the credit,” Dickenson said.
Despite the attention paid to the former Lions, it may have been another homecoming that won Saskatchewan the game. The Riders rushed for 227 yards behind an offensive line led, in part, by UBC alumnus Dakoda Shepley.
“I love being in Vancouver. It’s one of the best cities in the world,” said Shepley. “It’s really nice to get [the win] in front of some old teammates of mine at UBC. I had my agent out here; he drove up from Seattle. It’s just great to be around friends and I’m going to go see them right now after this. It’s a fun time.”
“It’s all about playing to our individual potential and our potential as a group. We’re really starting to click as an offensive line. I think the rest just takes care of itself when we’re all playing to our potential.”
Saskatchewan’s starting quarterback Cody Fajardo was raving about the offensive line’s manhandling of B.C.’s front seven.
“Those guys really won us the game,” Fajardo said. “I owe those guys some pizza or some steaks or something because they’re really rolling up front.”
Coach Dickenson shared his signal caller’s sentiments.
“That’s the formula we want to have is to be good on both the offensive and defensive lines, control the pace of the game, and then take shots when you need it. So, I was very proud of both the offensive and defensive lines. I thought they played very well,” Dickenson said.
As for the Lions, centre Andrew Peirson summed up what most of the team was thinking after another demoralizing loss.
“You’ve just got to prepare physically and mentally,” Pierson said. “And I think, personally, I should’ve done better on both ends.”