The good, the bad and the dumb of the Riders’ 20-18 loss to Winnipeg in the Labour Day Classic

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

As much as we love football, some days remind us there are more important things.

After the tragedy that unfolded in the James Smith Cree Nation and surrounding areas today, it feels a little weird to be writing about a game.

However, the show must go on as they say, and the Riders and Bombers sure did their best to provide some joy on a dark day in Saskatchewan as the Labour Day Classic lived up to the hype at Mosaic Stadium.

The Riders lost, and we’ll get into why, but sometimes the game takes a back seat and it did on this Sunday.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ sixth loss of the season.

The Good

For much of this season, the discussion surrounding the Riders has been about the state of the offence. It hasn’t been pretty most of the season.

That wasn’t the case on Sunday in the Labour Day Classic.

For the first time this season, the Riders actually went down the field on their first possession of the game and scored a touchdown. Needless to say, that brought Mosaic Stadium to life and gave the fans — and perhaps the team — some belief that they could hang with the one-loss Bombers.

From there, the Riders created a turnover and added seven more points through two field goals and rouge to take a 14-0 lead.

Cody Fajardo finished the game with 292 yards passing and one interception that he shouldn’t even have been put in a position to throw. It wasn’t the pivot’s best game but he continued to look more like himself after turning the page last week again the Lions.

There’s no question that this is very good news for the Riders, who now have to go into the belly of the beast and play in Winnipeg next week.

Running back Frankie Hickson had another strong outing in place of the injured Jamal Morrow, running for 82 yards. He would have had more had offensive coordinator Jason Maas kept with the run game throughout, but that’s par for the course at this point.

Yes, the Riders only managed to score one point in the second half, but the Bombers only scored 3. We’ve often heard people on the broadcast trying to justify bad offensive football as good defence. This game was, without a doubt, good defence in the second half. That side of the ball deserves much of the credit for keeping both teams off the scoresheet in the second half.

Ultimately, this was a well-played football game and while there are no moral victories, the Riders proved they can hang with Winnipeg. Something we weren’t so sure about a few weeks ago.

The Bad

Despite the positives, there were certainly some things that didn’t help the Riders against the Bombers.

Most notably, a few coaching decisions may have been the biggest difference.

The first came early in the second quarter when the Riders found themselves in a second-and-one situation. Despite a strong start to the game along the ground, Maas dialled up a pass to Hickson on the wide side. He ended up losing his footing and was taken down for a loss.

Even had the play succeeded, it was another situation where a play-caller was caught overthinking the situation. Saskatchewan had to settle for a field goal and it ultimately led to the Bombers getting back into the game with a couple of touchdowns. A touchdown there and the Riders may have rolled to victory.

Head coach Craig Dickenson had his moments as well. His challenge of an offensive pass interference call on Shaq Evans that wiped out a 54-yard gain was destined to fail. It was a curious decision for a coach who doesn’t like the call first-half time-outs and usually saves them for the second half. As the game wound down in the final minute and Winnipeg had the ball, he certainly could have used one.

I also wasn’t a fan of the decision to opt for a 57-yard field goal attempt with six minutes to go in the third quarter. While the team was in the “no man’s land” area of the field where a punt doesn’t help you all that much, going for it on third and five in that spot would have been a better decision. Any field goal attempt from your side of the field should be saved until absolutely necessary.

The final big blunder from the coaching staff was again on Maas, when he inexplicably called for a pass on first down after Fajardo and the offence got to the Winnipeg 26-yard line with two minutes to go. There’s absolutely no reason to do anything besides run the football on first down in that situation and Fajardo was ultimately intercepted on a play that never should have been called.

Add in Duke Williams taking a penalty and crushing a promising drive when he wasn’t even playing and the Riders were going to be in tough to beat the best team in the league.

They were just lucky that Garrett Marino wasn’t flagged for another dangerous and unnecessary hit on a quarterback.

The Dumb

In what was perhaps an omen for the game ahead, a train came off the tracks in front of Mosaic Stadium before the game and was stuck there for quite some time.

Long trains that hold up traffic are a fact of life in Saskatchewan. Luckily, Elphinstone is closed to traffic on game days anyway, but anyone who walked that way to the stadium had to find an alternate route.

Thankfully, no damage was done and no one was hurt, so in retrospect, it’s kind of funny.

It ended up being a pretty good metaphor for the game. Everything seemed to be going well and the Riders were on track for a win, until they weren’t.

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.