By George, that was terrible!
On a night the late great Rider superstar was honoured with a touching pregame tribute that included his family, the Saskatchewan Roughriders punished the poor souls who showed up at Mosaic Stadium with a lifeless display that would’ve had even a loyal patron like George Reed searching for an early ride home.
This fifth straight loss ended in a 38-13 final score to the should-be-beatable Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Not even the absence of the ‘Cats’ rockstar offensive play-caller Scott Milanovich could kill the Hammer’s chances of grabbing a win in Regina.
It’s the first time the Ticats have regained the .500 mark since the start of the season. Very hospitable hosts to their visitors, these Roughriders are becoming these days. A few weeks after helping the Ottawa Redblacks end their seven-game losing streak, the Roughriders are proving to be the CFL’s ultimate slump-buster.
Too bad that generosity isn’t being extended to their own fans.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The nice feeling around remembering George and the 2013 Grey Cup champions going into the Plaza of Honour created a festive aura around the park in the minutes leading up to kickoff.
Some of us in the press box even noted that this felt like a day everyone could forget about the autumn doom that has haunted this football team and its now 1-11 September-October record over the past two seasons.
It seemed almost too good to be true and it was.
All it took was Hamilton quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell — remember him? — converting on an early second-and-long from the shadow of his own goal-posts by finding the increasingly large gap in the Rider secondary to connect with Tim White for an 88-yard-pass-and-gallop. Just like that, the energy was gone.
“These Roughriders are really, really bad,” one of the 27,579 alleged to have shown up texted me while the sub-.500 Ticats made fools of the once-proud Green and White.
“I am here with free tickets and still feel like I paid too much.”
One has to wonder how the folks who did pony up feel about their investment after donating a Saturday night to a cause as unworthy as this team has become.
The halftime ceremony showcasing the Plaza of Honour inductees was solid and we even heard from Darian Durant, who is seldom seen in these parts anymore even though his jersey is still everywhere.
Durant spent much of the game lapping the field to sign autographs. It was a very touching scene, though the cheer for Darian holding his Grey Cup ring in the final two minutes eclipsed just about any other cheer the Roughriders would get on this sad, depressing Saturday night.
The challenges and replay reviews weren’t to blame for the Riders’ problems but slowed down a game that felt like the longest of the season. That’s saying something for a team that has scored 12, 12 and 11 meaningful points in their last three offensive outings — not including garbage-time situations.
If we didn’t know it already, we know it now. For a second straight autumn, the milk in Riderville has gone sour.
Head coach Craig Dickenson, who feels like a dead man walking these days, entered his postgame press conference wearing a black shirt with a green Superman sign but wasn’t feeling all that super.
“I did not see that coming at all,” Dickenson said. “Never in a million years did I think with all the things we have to play for — playoffs, honouring George Reed and his family, the 2013 team and the intrinsic motivation of going out there and doing what we love to do — I just did not see that coming.”
The situation in Riderville has gotten so bad that some fans are disappointed that there’s a good chance this 6-10 team could lose its final two games and still make the playoffs. That would set up a probable visit to B.C. for a third time this year in the West Semi-final and another week of watching this horror movie unfold.
So how on earth did the not-at-all dynamic quarterbacking duo of the career backup Matthew Shiltz and the over-the-hill Bo Levi Mitchell pile up 400 yards passing in a park where the world’s greatest fans are cheering against them?
Dickenson suggests they’re not getting physical enough but it’s clear the problems run deeper than that.
Defensive ringleader Micah Johnson says it was as simple as too many blown assignments that led to the Green Machine not honouring George Reed the way they wanted to.
“I’m just sad that we couldn’t come through for him,” Johnson said. “Everything he stood for. Not just George, but all the other legends out here on Legends Night. Sheets, Durant and all these guys that were winning. We couldn’t pull through for them.”
Good thing players on both teams wore the George Reed stickers, preventing the bad mojo this Rider gang is cooking up from completely defacing his number 34.
Quarterback Jake Dolegala had a very un-Lancaster-like night with 154 yards passing and was eventually replaced by Mason Fine in the fourth quarter. Afterward, he got through his postgame press conference in record time — under two minutes — looking as defeated as any quarterback has ever looked in the history of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
We asked Jake if this latest display of sadness tells us there is something internally wrong with this football team.
“I thought the guys were fighting tonight,” Dolegala said.
“Nobody quit. Some things didn’t go our way. We didn’t play our best but I believe in the guys, trust in the guys and love those guys. They fought. We’ve just got to get going.”
If there was any lipstick that could make this pig look better, it came from the one player on the current Roughriders who in some ways actually resembles George Reed.
Running back Jamal Morrow, who shares his alma mater of Washington State with Reed, proved on this night that the Roughriders do indeed have a meaningful run game. 18 carries for 120 yards and a long second-quarter touchdown run — the team’s only TD on the night — gave Morrow a chance to salute George Reed after he was picked to carry the flag honouring number 34 in the pregame festivities.
“I was very touched and honoured to do that,” Morrow said. “It was a very special moment for me to wave the flag and run out of the tunnel. It was a very emotional, great experience that they chose me and I was very honoured by that.”
“But to go out and play like that as a team is just disgusting.”
How did this not-so-long-ago promising 6-5 juggernaut, which snagged back-to-back wins over B.C. and Winnipeg, all of a sudden become a rump?
“We’ve lost our confidence and we’ve lost a little bit of our mojo. I don’t think it’s too late,” Dickenson said, admitting he has not yet decided who will start at quarterback for their Friday the 13th showdown with the Stampeders.
“But if we don’t play better than that, even if (we) get in, we’ll be one and done.”
Some Rider fans are starting to wonder how badly this team even wants to make the playoffs. A couple more wins from the Stampeders or even three straight wins from the Redblacks could put the Riders out of their misery.
Even George Reed in his prime couldn’t fix this mess.