Ben’s Breakdown: four consecutive plays that sunk Saskatchewan’s season

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

What makes football more intense than other North American team sports is how few games there are. Extreme emotional highs and lows stem from the fact that a win in the CFL is equivalent to a nine-game winning streak in Major League Baseball, and a loss, a nine-game losing streak. In baseball terms, the Saskatchewan Roughriders closed out their season with 63 straight losses.

Major changes are already underway, but it could have ended differently. There’s an alternate timeline in which Trevor Harris didn’t get injured, Saskatchewan easily made the playoffs, and Craig Dickenson and his staff were offered contract extensions while the Riders prepared to host the West Semi-Final.

But even with Harris’ injury, how many individual plays since Labour Day could have altered Saskatchewan’s season? In the end, it came down to one final drive, and instead of Chad Kelly, DaVaris Daniels, and A.J. Ouellette, all the Roughriders needed to do was stop rookie quarterback Cameron Dukes, second-year Canadian running back Dan Adeboboye, and newly-added Regina-born receiver Richie Sindani.

However, as has been the case since their triumph over Winnipeg, Saskatchewan was literally and figuratively in position but unable to make a play.

With under two minutes remaining in the game, the Roughriders led 26-22. Let’s look at the last four plays on Toronto’s game-winning seven-play, 82-yard drive, which sunk Saskatchewan’s season and perfectly encapsulated their nightmare finish.

Play No. 1

On third-and-10 from Toronto’s 44-yard-line with 1:26 remaining, Cameron Dukes completed a pass to Richie Sindani for a 27-yard gain.

The Argos had three receivers to the right with Richie Sindani in the left slot and Damonte Coxie out wide. Coxie had a go route down the sideline, and Sindani had a double move at the sticks.

Defensively, Anthony Lanier II got banged up on the previous play while knocking down a pass, so DeMarcus Christmas came in as his replacement and immediately made an impact. On a twist with Bryan Cox Jr., Christmas got past left tackle Isiah Cage and hurried Cameron Dukes’ throw, knocking him to the ground as he released the football.

The Riders were running a prevent variation of cover three cut with eight defenders dropping beyond the sticks. Sindani chopped his feet and cut to the outside to draw A.J. Allen towards the sideline, which opened a small void between he and Larry Dean. When the tall receiver cut back inside and up the seam, there was a small window for Dukes to place the ball.

Unable to step into the throw or follow through because of Christmas, Dukes flicked it up for Sindani, who went airborne and fully extended to secure the catch between Allen, Dean, and Trumaine Washington. Despite surrounding Sindani as he went up for the ball, none of the defenders were able to prevent the catch or knock the ball free as he brought it back in to his body.

Play No. 2

On first down from Saskatchewan’s 39-yard-line with 1:12 remaining, Cameron Dukes threw an incomplete pass to Dan Adeboboye that was almost intercepted.

Out of the same formation as the previous play, the Argos ran a full-field hooks concept with Dejon Brissett the middle receiver to the trips side tagged on a deep route. Defensive coordinator Jason Shivers had the perfect play call with two defenders overtop and six playing the sticks with a three-man rush. There was nothing open.

With the pocket closing, Cameron Dukes checked down to Adeboboye who leaked out on a sort of Texas route, but the throw came in hot off the running back’s hand and Pete Robertson popped it into the air.

Robertson, A.J. Allen, Diontae Williams, Jayden Dalke, C.J. Reavis, and Lake Korte-Moore were all just a few feet from the ball as it came down into Larry Dean’s hands, but the all-star linebacker dropped it. Reavis picked up the ball and spiked it into the ground in frustration. To make matters worse, Washington drew a flag for inexplicably jamming Damonte Coxie 10 yards downfield.

Play No. 3

On first down with 1:08 remaining from Saskatchewan’s 29-yard-line, Cameron Dukes completed a deep pass to Damonte Coxie for a 24-yard gain.

Out of the same formation for the third straight play, the Argos called a pogo concept with Sindani running a post from the left slot and Coxie a go route up the sideline.

Trumaine Washington played this about as well as it can be played. In press man with an inside shade, Washington forced Coxie off his stem, giving him no room in which to operate along the rail. Dukes lofted up a back shoulder pass and Coxie added to his collection of highlight reel catches, using his body to shield Washington from the ball and just barely managing to land in bounds.

Play No. 4

On first-and-goal from the Saskatchewan five-yard-line, Dan Adeboboye took a handoff up the middle for a touchdown.

Damonte Coxie and Richie Sindani continued to line up in the same formation to the left, while David Ungerer III, Dejon Brissett, and Tommy Nield all pinched in from the right with Dan Adeboboye in pistol behind Cameron Dukes. The young running back took the handoff from Dukes, jump cut twice and then drove forward, breaking arm tackles from C.J. Reavis and Jayden Dalke while fending off Larry Dean and dragging A.J. Allen across the goal line.

All five Toronto linemen made their blocks, but there were eight defenders in the box at the snap with Dalke and Allen inbound from ten yards deep. This was Adeboboye’s first CFL touchdown. When you watch the replay, you can only conclude he wanted it more.

General manager Jeremy O’Day was signed a three-year extension, Craig Dickenson won’t be back as the team’s head coach, and coordinators Kelly Jeffrey and Jason Shivers are on expiring contracts, so wholesale changes on the coaching staff are expected.

As O’Day mulls over candidates to replace Dickenson, keep it locked to 3DownNation for all the latest developments.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.