The first week of the CFL season was relatively mistake-free from an officiating perspective, except for one helmet-to-helmet hit applied by B.C. Lions linebacker Jordan Williams on Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo.
It was the final offensive play of the third quarter at Mosaic Stadium when Fajardo and the offence were backed up against their own goal line. Leos defensive lineman Obum Gwacham had the Riders’ QB in his grasp and as Fajardo was falling to the ground, Williams flew in to make contact with the head of No. 7 in green and white.
Fajardo barely was able to get the football out of the end zone to avoid a safety, but the effort left him in a vulnerable position. Head coach Craig Dickenson clearly felt the hit broke the rules because he threw his challenge flag. However, after the play was reviewed for unnecessary roughing, the referees decided there was no infraction or penalty.
“I guess I’m not a big enough name yet to get that call, that’s what I told the B.C. guys,” Fajardo said with a smile.
The CFL football operations Twitter account provided the following explanation: Play #110: Saskatchewan challenged a called legal tackle by BC (#21 Williams) for roughing the passer. After reviewing the play the replay official determined there was no roughing the passer as Saskatchewan QB (#7 Fajardo) was deemed a runner at that point in the play.
“It’s tough to say, I’ll watch the film. Anytime you show something on the screen in your home stands, you’re going to get the crowd going crazy, but I’m not one to talk about the refs, they got a tough job,” Fajardo said
“I would hate to be a ref, honestly, because it’s a really hard job. I’m just glad I didn’t take a safety there and I was able to get the ball out.”
Fajardo didn’t want to call out the stripes, but coaches and personnel people around the CFL pointed to a similar situation which happened to a former Rider quarterback. Three offensive plays into the 2019 season, Simoni Lawrence knocked Zach Collaros out of the first game. He was flagged for a 25-yard roughing the passer penalty.
The league office felt the helmet-to-helmet hit was deserving of further discipline. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie handed down a two-game suspension that Lawrence served after losing his appeal. Lawrence missed two games, although it was Collaros who had his year come to an end before it even started.
Players and coaches wanted the comparison to be made, despite it not being the exact same situations, because they are seeking consistency. If Fajardo was laying motionless on the turf would Williams have been penalized upon second thought or review? It’s a worthy question because the severity of the injury shouldn’t determine the consequences for the offender.
The refs should be striving to ensure players are protected in those types of situations and just because Fajardo bounced back to his feet doesn’t mean the contact should go unpenalized.