A dark cloud is hanging over the province of Saskatchewan, but Roughriders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo believes it’s always been a part of the prairie skyline.
Weighed down by the expectations of a home Grey Cup game, the Riders have stumbled to a 6-9 record and are clinging to a crossover playoff spot by their fingernails. Their latest loss, a 31-13 defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, marked the team’s fourth in a row and handed their chief rival a sweep of the season series.
Just two weeks removed from being booed in a home upset by the woeful Edmonton Elks, the Riders were mercifully on the road for their latest failure. Nevertheless, when asked about the team’s efforts to tune out the outside noise, Fajardo noted that dealing with negativity is simply a part of playing in Regina.
“It’s been there my whole time I’ve been here. There’s people that don’t like me, there’s people that like me, and that’s gonna happen with any sport,” the quarterback admitted to the media post-game. “There’s a lot of people going to be calling for my head, which they already have, and there’s going to be a lot of people supporting me.”
Fajardo has been vocal throughout his time in Saskatchewan about the intense pressure that come with leading the Riders and the effect that online criticism has had on him. While many fans have found his public responses to criticism and adversity to be lacking, the third-year starter believes he has the right formula to push through those difficulties.
“What you have to do with that is you have to have a great support system, which I do with my wife and my family and my close friends, and there’s a lot of great Rider fans that have sent me some really nice messages through these difficult times,” Fajardo said.
“That’s part of the process when you’re the starting quarterback for a big franchise that has a great following and like I said, you can’t please everybody. It’s hard, I’ve tried it but it can be pretty exhausting when you try and please everybody and people still want you out.”
The calls for Fajardo’s job reached an apex mid-season and have quieted considerably since then. The 30-year-old was a respectable 26-of-38 for 307 yard and an interception on Friday while adding a rushing score, more than good enough to keep the Riders in the fight.
“You look at the way Cody played tonight, he played outstanding. You’re not going to make every throw but I think that effort from him tonight is winning football,” head coach Craig Dickenson said at the podium. “If we can get that consistently from him, along with everybody else, I think we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good team.”
His pivot was slightly harsher when it came to assessing the details of the performance.
“I just didn’t make plays when they had to be there. I drop a snap, which I’ve never done in my career, and those are tough things to do against a team when we’re in the red zone. There was a lot of plays that swung the momentum,” Fajardo said.
“We got stopped twice on third-and-one which we’ve rarely done, I don’t know if at all, this season. There’s a lot of big plays that switch the momentum and for us, we’ve just kind of got to put our nose to the grindstone and continue to work, work, work and fight through it.”
Despite those errors, both coach and quarterback emerged from the loss with a positive outlook for the offence, in part due to the adversity they faced.
“You guys don’t know this but we didn’t have a running back for the whole second half,” Fajardo highlighted, pointing out something viewers definitely recognized.
“When Kienan LaFrance went down, we had [receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker] playing running back and [fullback James Tuck] playing running back, guys that never take reps at running back at all. To do what we did out there with no running back and to be able to move the ball on a really good defence, that’s where the optimism comes from.”
For now, it will remain a ray of sunshine seen only in the Riders’ locker room, keeping the looming storm clouds at bay.