Cody Fajardo came oh so stingingly close for Riders in West Final

Photo courtesy: Matt Smith

He came close.

He came oh so close!

Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback Cody Fajardo just couldn’t punch it in from the one-yard-line on a quarterback keeper with just over two minutes to play in Sunday’s Western Final loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Riders had the ball, first and goal from the three-yard-line just moments earlier and failed to punch in a score that would have brought the green and white to within a convert of tying the game.

It was a common theme in a 20-13 defensive struggle that would end in the most heartbreaking loss for Rider fans since the 13th man episode of a Grey Cup played 10 years ago almost to the day.

One of the perks of this great Canadian game, that our poor friends down south don’t enjoy with their overhyped and inferior set of rules, is that defences up here have to give a full yard off the snap of the ball.

This should, and usually does, give the offence an automatic yard if they really want it. That wasn’t the case in Sunday’s loss for Saskatchewan.

The Roughriders cringed at the thought of their already-injured quarterback diving head-first into a pile through a quarterback sneak and Richie Hall’s Blue Bomber defence knew it.

This limited any sort of running attack from Rider offensive play-caller Stephen McAdoo and enabled the Blue Bombers to focus on downfield coverage, knowing full well that Fajardo does not like to sit in the pocket looking for open receivers for very long.

It also cut deep into the psyche of a team needing a goal-line hammer in the final three minutes of the biggest game ever played at the new Mosaic Stadium.

Fajardo’s stats weren’t terrible, aside from failing to produce more than 13 points offensively. The quarterback did, after all, pile up 366 yards through the air. It was just so clear that when a score needed to happen, like on the third and goal from the one-yard-line, it couldn’t.

Rather than try and push the pile ahead with the good ole fashioned QB sneak, Fajardo would step back, hesitate just enough for the Winnipeg defence to penetrate the line of scrimmage, and eventually roll out to his left into the waiting grasp of the Blue Bomber front seven.

And that was it.

Well not quite, as the Roughriders would get the ball back and make it interesting until the final play. But for real, it’s the goal-line stand that still stings in every corner of the ‘306’ area code.

It might feel like déjà vu all over again for some of players on the field and those in the crowd who witnessed the Riders season ending in a playoff loss to Winnipeg on the same turf for the second year in a row.

The irony of the Roughriders 2018 season ending in part due to Zach Collaros not playing and then the Roughriders 2019 season ending in part due to Zach Collaros actually playing is startling.

Saskatchewan’s first Western Final loss on home soil since 1970 couldn’t possibly hurt more, unless maybe it had involved a 13th man.

Fajardo went from perennial backup to MOP candidate in five months, not by putting up great stats, but rather by coming through in the clutch. The opposite was true on Sunday.

So close, yet so far.