Right when the Saskatchewan Roughriders had some of us fooled into thinking they were back on track, the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Labour Day Classic loss to Winnipeg brought us back to reality.
The green and white played a helluva three quarters, battling to a 17-17 tie before offensive coordinator Jason Maas and quarterback Cody Fajardo brilliantly orchestrated a drive from their own nine-yard-line to get into Winnipeg territory.
Then, the 2022 Roughriders reverted to form.
How could any of us have thought a go-ahead drive wouldn’t be interrupted by a boneheaded play from the Riders’ bench?
First, receiver Duke Williams — who’s out with an injury and had no business even being mentioned in this game — got mixed up with Winnipeg defensive back Deatrick Nichols at the sideline and cost the Riders a manageable second-and-three at their opponent’s 43-yard line. This not only put Saskatchewan into a second-and-13 hole but also pushed them out of field goal range.
That matters a great deal in a game that Saskatchewan lost by two points.
At that moment, it felt like the air had come out of the balloon. Suddenly, the whole idea of beating the best team in the CFL, one the Riders haven’t had a sniff against since before the pandemic, seemed silly once again.
Then came the TSN cameras showing Garrett Marino with his latest dirty hit, this one on Blue Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros. It didn’t draw a penalty flag but was enough ammo for TSN to pile on a little further.
It would be wrong to direct all of the blame for the Roughriders’ meltdown toward Duke Williams and Garrett Marino. In fact, the lion’s share of the blame should fall at the feet of the coaching staff, namely head coach Craig Dickenson and his offensive coordinator Jason Maas.
Dickenson gets his share for an ill-advised challenge on an offensive pass interference call when Shaq Evans clearly pushed off of Winnipeg defensive back Winston Rose. It cost the Riders a timeout and the ability to stop the clock, which could’ve given Cody Fajardo 20 valuable seconds to move the green and white into field goal range on their final drive.
The head coach also wears the goat horns for fostering an environment where players like Duke Williams think it’s okay to get involved when they shouldn’t and Garrett Marino is still allowed to throw his cheap shots, one quarterback at a time.
Maas opened himself up to criticism by calling a pass play in the final two minutes at a time the Riders had a first down, the ball at Winnipeg’s 25-yard-line, and needed nothing more than to gobble up some clock and let Brett Lauther give them the lead.
Instead, Cody Fajardo threw a pass towards Frankie Hickson that was promptly tipped into Nick Hallett’s hands for a back-breaking interception.
Criticism for the play call is debatable. Criticism for Garrett Marino, Duke Williams, and the botched challenge isn’t.
It was a team effort that cost Saskatchewan its second straight Labour Day Classic by a score of 20-18 — their first consecutive losses in the big game since 2003-04 — but football is a sport that both glorifies and scapegoats its head coaches.
For Craig Dickenson, on this day, the horns fit.