‘I don’t have one negative thing to say’: Riders’ Craig Dickenson praises players, preaches togetherness after devastating loss to Stamps

Photo: Matt Smith/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders no longer control their own playoff fate following Friday’s 26-19 defeat at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders but head coach Craig Dickenson would not lay the failure at the feet of his players, describing their performance as a “winning effort.”

“The players gave us everything they’ve got and I was proud of them,” Dickenson told the media post-game. “I don’t have one negative thing to say other than we made a few mistakes, but you make mistakes when you play football and the other guys are getting paid as well. As coaches, we are going to work hard to try to do a better job.”

The Riders opened the game strong, flying out to a 13-0 lead before slowly letting it slip away. Quarterback Jake Dolegala tossed an ill-advised pick-six to linebacker Cameron Judge late in the third quarter to put the Stampeders in front and the home side never looked back, clinching the season series between the two clubs.

Dickenson pointed to the interception as a turning point in the game but chose instead to focus on his own staff, noting their responsibility to help the players shine.

“I will look at the film closely and I’ve asked all the coaches to do the same. We promised the players we’re going to try to put them in there in the best possible spots we can for them to succeed,” he stressed.

“The players know that we’re going to work hard to try to help them be successful and that means as coaches, we’ve got to watch that film and go through it with a fine-tooth comb and find ways to get just a little bit better.”

Not long ago, Saskatchewan was viewed as a legitimate Grey Cup contender, having upset the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in consecutive games to sit at 6-5. The team has now dropped six games in a row since that point, holding on to third place in the West Division by a fingernail.

It is the second consecutive season in which the Riders have collapsed late, mirroring a 2022 campaign in which they lost seven straight to end the year and missed the playoffs. Staring down an expiring contract and the growing certainty he will not be retained following the season, Dickenson had no good explanation for the change in his team.

“We lost our starting quarterback so we’re still trying to find an identity with Jake and I think we’re still figuring out what that looks like,” he said, referencing the injury to veteran quarterback Trevor Harris which occurred back in Week 6 — the team’s first loss to Calgary.

“I think we’re still trying to figure out what we do best and teams have done a good job of studying us and making us go to Plan B or Plan C.”

The team pulled out all the stops to try and regain momentum in Week 19, with several veteran players speaking out in the locker room and general manager Jeremy O’Day, who is also facing an expiring contract, addressing the roster. While Dickenson believes those speeches had the desired effect, only one thing will meaningfully change the team’s chances.

“We could play a little better. That’s obviously it,” he conceded. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters most is what you do for the 60 minutes on the field.”

That couldn’t be more true than in next Saturday’s regular-season finale against the top-seeded Toronto Argonauts, with a victory being the team’s last opportunity to exert any pressure on the trailing Stamps. If the Riders lose for a seventh game in a row, Calgary will need just one victory over their final two games to steal a postseason berth thanks to their head-to-head advantage. Their rivals will need to win both games if the Green and White pulls an upset, which could clinch the final playoff spot if B.C. beats Calgary next Friday.

Despite those high stakes, Dickenson does not see this as an easy game to get his team up for.

“It’s gonna be a tricky sort of scenario to get them motivated. I think we can do it though,” he said. “We’re gonna focus on enjoying being together. We’ve got another week together and if we can win a ballgame, we make it pretty darn hard for Calgary to still catch us. But they do have the tie-breaker and our guys know that.”

Rather than dwell on the situation, the coach believes some time away from football may be necessary for the team. However, that doesn’t mean time away from each other.

“It may be something as simple as just getting in the weight room and lifting some weight, maybe heading to the bowling alley and throwing some pins. Do something fun,” Dickenson said, noting that his strategy would require approval from the top of the organization.

“I think I’ll do something that brings us together, gives us a chance to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Not beat ourselves up over the film but just hopefully get a chance to get together, have a little bit of fun and hopefully get some positive energy going towards this last one.”

The Riders (6-11) wrap up their regular season against the Argos (14-2) on Saturday, October 21 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.