The Saskatchewan Roughriders needed a flawless performance to have any shot at a win in B.C. on Saturday night and they didn’t get it.
Not from themselves, the officials, or the command centre in Toronto.
While the quarterback switch from Trevor Harris to Mason Fine put them in a hole long before they even boarded the plane for Vancouver, the Riders made their own bed. Fine wasn’t perfect in his third career CFL start but the coaches and players around him hardly picked him up.
They gave up the most penalty yardage they have all season, mostly in the first half. Then there was the ultra-conservative play calling, designed to succeed with yards-after-catch against a league-leading defence that hardly surrenders.
Yet, for all those mistakes, it was an early call from the referees and backed up by Toronto that had the Roughriders hot under the collar after the game. A non-sack that might have ultimately sacked Saskatchewan’s chances.
Late in the first quarter with the game still scoreless, Roughriders’ defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas appeared to take down B.C. quarterback Dane Evans in the endzone for a safety. A penalty flag came out and it was a holiday in July for Lions fans when the aptly-named defender was called for roughing-the-passer, wiping out the safety and giving the Lions’ offence a fresh set of downs.
Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson has been known to try hail mary challenges before but not so here.
“I thought I was going to win that,” Dickenson told Regina reporters after the game. “The standard for roughing-the-passer is you cannot hit him in the head or neck area with force. The word they use is ‘unnecessary force’ and that was just a tackle. I’ve got to disagree with the command centre on that.”
“The standard is unnecessary force. There’s this idea that you can’t hit him in the head and neck (area) and that’s wrong. You can hit him in the head and neck area but not with unnecessarily rough force and I felt like Demarcus got (Dane Evans) over the chest. His arm went over the shoulder and I felt like it was a clean sack. I felt like it was worth challenging because it was points and they’re kicking off to us.”
Dickenson made clear that he doesn’t think the outcome of the challenge impacted the final result. Rider defensive tackle Micah Johnson disagreed.
“I’ll get in trouble on that one,” Johnson said. “How else can you tackle the quarterback? That was the game-changing play. I hate that that sack got taken away from D.C., personally, and then just to have a huge outcome on the game. That’s a safety right there. That changes a lot. For us, it’s frustrating. The quarterback is ducking.”
“He’s not horse collaring. He didn’t hit him up high. I don’t know what (Demarcus) could have done differently.”
Instead of Saskatchewan having their first lead of the game and getting the ball back in decent field position, the Lions marched 101 yards off the back of the penalty and were in the endzone less than three minutes later. The Riders never held a lead for the rest of the game.
If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas. But one can’t help but wonder if the first start of the Mason Fine era might have gone differently had that early call not gone the way it did.
Momentum is a big thing in the CFL and the limited data we have on Mason Fine suggests he does well when he’s in rhythm, something that would have been a lot easier to come by had the Riders scored the safety on Saturday night.
Whether the command centre got it right or not, don’t expect the Riders to be okay with it.