Somehow the Riders find a way to clinch first in the West (and eight other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

You’ll be hard pressed to find an uglier game than that one, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders will host the West Final in a couple of weeks.

The Riders did just about everything they could to make sure they were going to make the game between the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions must-see TV in Saskatchewan.

The errors were seemingly endless by the green and white on Saturday afternoon. Brett Lauther missed four field goals — four of them. Even the worst college kickers, who are notoriously bad, don’t often have days like that.

Craig Dickenson goofed right before the half that ended in confusion and a sneak from Isaac Harker with no time left on the clock. The offence, led by Harker, the rookie quarterback, had a decent start to the game but that quickly fizzled as they were stuck in neutral for the better part of the second, third and fourth quarters.

Like many times before in their 100-plus year history, it felt like the Riders were going to blow it. The chance to host the West Final was there’s for the taking.

Edmonton, who aren’t a very good team to begin with, were basically letting the Riders have it. They dressed nobody of consequence and it showed in the first half. Quarterback Logan Kilgore had just 42 yards passing and an interception.

Instead, the Riders let the Eskimos hang around and then Edmonton actually took the lead thanks to a 13-point third quarter.

You could sense the mood in the stadium — here we go again.

Except as this team has done many times before, they found a way to win. After doing very little for so long, with the tie scored at 13, Harker found  Justin McInnis (who had a bad drop himself earlier) for a 29-yard reception, setting up the Riders deep in Edmonton territory. It led to Lauther making an 11-yard field goal to re-gain the lead.

After that, Rider fans should probably consider sending Jason Maas some thank you cards for rolling out rookie quarterback Troy Williams for a second consecutive series with the game, and the Riders season, on the line.

On the very first play from scrimmage, Williams’ pass was tipped and intercepted by Cameron Judge who took it to the house.

The party was on in Regina, the Riders — somehow — won the game and will host the West Final.

It was ugly, it was hard to watch, but it was probably exactly what it should have been. So, I guess it was never in doubt? This is the Riders after all, they’d never do this the easy way.

Odds and ends

– The week off is badly needed for the Riders. Harker was very much a rookie quarterback, fresh out of college, making his first career professional start. They’ll need a lot more out of the position if they plan on playing in Calgary on November 24th.

It’s not Harker’s fault, he’s not there yet. So, rest up Cody Fajardo, your team is going to need you. Some of Bryan Bennett’s packages were interesting, but he’s not going to win you a full game either, unless Stephen McAdoo busts out the triple option playbook.

– A.C. Leonard had himself a game. The defensive end was in Kilgore’s kitchen all game. Leonard had six tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Leonard perhaps hasn’t had the most productive year opposite Charleston Hughes, but if he’s starting to heat up now, that’s good news for the Riders.

– Once again Al Bradbury and his crew made themselves a story. There were plenty of questionable and missed calls both ways. Some of which had a pretty big effect on the game. Seemingly every game Bradbury is involved in, especially when it involves western teams, they’re a story.

– Not sure why Maas is putting trick plays on film in a nothing game, but good for him? Especially if he knew he was putting his third-string quarterback in late in the game no matter the game situation.

– That’s a few times Craig Dickenson has had some time management errors. Dickenson put the blame on himself at half-time with TSN’s Claire Hanna.

That’s good but now he needs to show he’s learned from these errors. I also wasn’t a fan of trotting Lauther out there for a 54-yard field goal attempt after he had previously missed two kicks. On one hand it’s good to show your kicker you have confidence in him, but on the other hand, it’s a long kick on a cold day where kicking is always tough.

– Edmonton receiver Diego Viamontes will go down as the first global player listed as a starter. He finished the game with no stats.

– The most entertaining part of this game was the in-house video where the Riders lip sync along to songs. William Powell was a star in this one, I’m sure the video will be on social soon. Sorry, I’m far too un-cool to remember the name of the song.

– A lot will probably be made of the paid attendance — 29,156 — especially after the same facility was overcapacity just a week ago for a hockey game. That’s just the sports landscape we live in now.

The hardcore fans will show, performance probably isn’t likely to sway casual fans to buy tickets at the last minute when it’s far more comfortable (and cheaper) to watch games at home.

The Heritage Classic was an event, one of at least 10 football games a year, no matter how important, is not. If there isn’t at least an increase for the West Final, just this team’s third at home in like 40 years, then we have something to talk about.