The Riders’ 2022 season started with a bang. Well, more like a slow-rolling crack of thunder.
After a rather uninspiring first half by both the home team and the Ticats, the Riders found their groove in the second half en route to a convincing win over the two-time defending East Division Grey Cup representatives.
Without further adieu, here’s the good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ first win of 2022.
The most obvious thing I could write here is that the Riders’ defence was lights out because, well, it was.
There’s no question that Jason Shivers’ unit was ready to play and gave Hamilton more than they could handle. Plenty will be written and discussed surrounding how the defence played in the coming days after they got home for eight sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions.
Instead, I’m going to heap some praise on head coach Craig Dickenson for a decision he made that I believe changed the game, even if it didn’t work out at the time.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Dickenson faced a third-and-two at the Hamilton 50-yard line. In the first half, Dickenson opted to punt or kick a field goal in somewhat similar short-yardage situations. They also went for it once in the second quarter and Fajardo was stopped short of the line to gain.
This time, Dickenson felt it was time to go for it — a decision that might have ultimately won the Riders the game, even if the play call was questionable and not executed as the team would have liked.
Even though Fajardo had to effectively throw the ball away, Dickenson rightly trusted his defence at that moment. It’s often said that punting shows faith in your defence, when it’s in fact the opposite. Going for it means you trust your defence will get the job done if the offence can’t convert.
That’s exactly how it played out for Dickenson.
On the very next Hamilton possession, Dane Evans’ first pass was knocked down and then he was strip-sacked on second down with the Riders recovering in Hamilton territory. That turnover led to Brett Lauther’s fifth field goal of the game and what turned out to be the game-winning score.
The Riders would go on to score more points in the fourth quarter than they did in the previous three.
You play to win the game, Dickenson did and it worked.
For three quarters, Riders fans were “treated” to a display that looked a lot like what we saw in 2021.
While the defence was playing on the balls of their feet, the offence was doing basically the opposite as both teams finished the first half with fewer than 100 net yards of offence each.
Yes, Hamilton’s defence deserves some praise for holding down the fort for much of the game but as CJME’s Jamie Nye pointed out to me in the press box at halftime, the furthest completed pass thrown by Fajardo to that point was five yards.
That said, as the second half progressed you could feel the Riders’ offence starting to gain some traction. Fajardo hit a long pass to Shaq Evans and he started hitting some good mid-range throws in the middle of the field. Throws that weren’t made in 2021. Throws that can back the defence up and make them respect Fajardo’s ability to throw beyond the chains.
If the offence we saw in the second half is what we see from the Riders the rest of the season, they could be trouble. If it was an anomaly, then they might be in trouble.
A couple of moments stand out in this game as just plain fun.
The first came during a big run by Riders’ receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker in the third quarter. Firstly, it’s pretty cool to see the big Canadian receiver taking the toss for a nine-yard run but when you go back and watch it, Schaffer-Baker effectively crowd-surfed his way to a few extra yards on the backs of some Hamilton defenders.
Kian Schaffer-Baker looked like he was being set up for a 3D but Bubba Ray Dudley was MIA pic.twitter.com/NBqqgfaO9h
— Rouge Radio Podcast (@RougeRadio) June 12, 2022
Then late in the game, Duke Williams decided to get a little personal, shall we say, with the turf following a successful two-point conversion.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) June 12, 2022
Also, props to the fan in the unnamed beer country section that poured his beverage into his watermelon helmet following Schaffer-Baker’s touchdown and celebration in the area. Not only was he having fun, but it probably added some much-needed flavour to his big-brand bland beer.