For the first time in over 600 days, the Saskatchewan Roughriders took to the turf at Mosaic Stadium, and boy did they ever make it interesting.
The Green and White stormed out to a 31-0 lead in the second quarter only to see that lead shrink as the game went on as the home team hung on for a 33-29 win over the Lions.
In 2020, I had a plan to debut a new post-game format for Rider games called: “the good, the bad, and the dumb” in which we celebrate the good parts of the game, the bad parts, and the dumb. Football is a sport where the dumb and wacky happen on a regular basis and it deserves to be celebrated and discussed like everything else.
So, nearly a year-and-a-half later, here it is.
After an entire year without CFL football, no one really knew what to expect. My general thought was to bet the under early as offences take a few weeks to get going and catch up with their defensive counterparts.
That did not happen in this one.
Cody Fajardo and the Riders raced out of the gate as he completed his first 15 passes, leading the team to touchdown drives on their first three possessions of the season before settling for a field goal on their fifth.
The play-calling, especially early on, helped a completely unknown offensive line keep Fajardo upright. New offensive coordinator Jason Maas kept passes short and made sure running back William Powell was busy. I really loved some aggressive play calls on third down, especially on the first drive of the game that led to the opening score of the game.
Defensively, you could tell the group was geared up as they came out strong against surprise starting quarterback Nathan Rourke (more on that later). The Lions had just a handful of plays as the Riders roared out to that huge lead.
One big question surrounding the team heading into this season was how would the defence look without elite pass rusher Charleston Hughes. If game one is any indication, A.C. Leonard may answer the question. The receiver-turned-defensive end finished the night with a tackle, a knockdown, and sealed the game with an interception. The Florida native is well on his way to leading the way this season.
For as good as the start was for the Riders, the rest of the game was not.
Before the half, you could feel the tides start to shift a little bit. The Lions had a decent drive and that continued into the second half.
After taking a 28-0 lead, the Riders scored six more points the rest of the night and if not for a couple of missed field goals from Lions rookie global kicker Takeru Yamasaki, the Riders might have actually lost this game.
An offence that was unstoppable suddenly couldn’t do much. Receiver Shaq Evans had a couple of key drops that could have made a big difference in the game. The run game disappeared.
Some of it is to be expected with such a big lead, but it nearly cost them.
Going forward, the Riders will need a — sigh — full 60 minutes if they hope to be successful.
Where do we begin? This entire game could be categorized as dumb. It was entertaining, it was intriguing but was it good? I don’t know.
It started right off the bat when the in-stadium public address announcer said the Lions starting quarterback was Michael Reilly, except it wasn’t. Rourke was under centre instead.
Lions head coach Rick Campbell said that nothing was meant to deceive anyone, it was just a series of things that happened leading up to the game, basically. I’ll take Campbell at his word, but if the CFL wants to take gambling seriously, then this cannot happen again.
If an injury occurs in warm-up or before the game there has to be some kind of system in place where teams need to announce the last-minute change to the roster.
It got even weirder at half-time when Campbell told TSN’s Farhan Lalji that it was better for Reilly to sit this one out and then he was suddenly playing to start the second half. Even though something was clearly off with Reilly, it worked, so strange. Riders defensive back Nick Marshall told CBC’s Glenn Reid after the game that adjusting to throws that are that far off the mark is definitely an adjustment, like to a knuckleball pitcher in baseball.
Things got even stranger when Rourke returned to close out the final few minutes of the game.
I’ll leave the analysis of Campbell’s quarterback usage to our J.C. Abbott and Justin Dunk but it was strange to stay the least.
The Very Good
On a personal note, it was wonderful to be back at Mosaic Stadium for the first time since the 2019 West Final.
However, it was also an emotional one. That game was also the last time I saw former Global and CJME broadcaster, and more importantly, friend Warren Woods.
‘Woodsy’ as he was known, was unfortunately taken from us in January after contracting COVID-19.
Over the last few years, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Woodsy in the press box. This game would have been the first time I would have seen him since the West Final. I was not looking forward to not seeing him in his spot.
What I did see though, was good.
A big kudos to Roughriders communications director Arielle Zerr and the organization for the move as Woodsy’s seat has been retired in memory.
Miss ya, buddy.