Riders said goodbye to losing after first bye week
MONTREAL — Not even Mother Nature could slow down the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ roll.
The Riders were credited with a 17-10 victory over the Montreal Alouettes after Friday’s game ended early due to severe weather. The contest was officially called with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter, following a 60-minute delay due to lightning in the Montreal area.
Under the newly established CFL weather protocol, a game is considered official once it passes the midway point of the third quarter. If a weather-related delay occurs beyond that point and lasts more than 60 minutes, the game is called off, with the team in the lead declared the winner.
Under those rare circumstances, the Riders improved their record to 5-3. They have won four straight games since their record dropped to 1-3 with a 37-10 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium on July 6.
Saskatchewan then embarked on its first of three bye weeks. The rejuvenated Riders haven’t lost since returning from that hiatus.
Fast forward to a stormy Friday night in Montreal, where the Riders beat the Alouettes before beginning a second bye week. The mood in the locker room was more upbeat than was the case when the first bye week began.
There are many reasons for the Riders to be excited about the turnaround, although an issue with special teams needs to be addressed when the team reconvenes after its bye.
However, there isn’t any issue with quarterbacking. Cody Fajardo has emerged as one of the league’s top quarterbacks after being a backup for his first three CFL seasons.
Fajardo has thrown for 1,871 yards, with seven touchdowns against four interceptions, in addition to rushing for six touchdowns.
He has stepped up as the Riders’ team leader and embraced being the face of the franchise, all good points that should continue to help the Green and White.
Evans leads the Riders in receiving yards (607) and is second on the team in receptions (31) and touchdown catches (two). Moore is first in receptions (34) and touchdown catches (three) and second in receiving yards (492).
Defensively, the Riders are regaining the form they showed during the 2018 season when they tied a league record with 11 return touchdowns.
The 2018 edition was opportunistic, aggressive and largely the reason the Riders finished with a 12-6 record and played host to the West Division semi-final despite an anemic offence.
On Friday, the Riders scored their first defensive touchdowns of the season thanks to first-half fumble returns by defensive ends Earl Okine and Charleston Hughes. Okine scored on a 55-yard first-quarter rumble and Hughes returned a second-quarter fumble 45 yards for a major.
The Riders forced both fumbles with blitzes that rocked, in succession, Alouettes quarterbacks Antonio Pipkin (who was flattened by Derrick Moncrief) and Matthew Shiltz (who was rocked by Cameron Judge).
Jones was the Riders’ head coach, defensive co-ordinator, general manager and vice-president of football operations until leaving the team in January to join the Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff.
Coverage on punt and kickoff returns is an ongoing concern for head coach Craig Dickenson, who doubles as the special-teams co-ordinator.
Montreal’s Shakeir Ryan scored on a 101-yard punt return just two minutes 20 seconds into Friday’s first quarter. That was the fourth special-teams touchdown the Riders have surrendered this season.
Coverage breakdowns and matador tackling are still nagging issues, ones that Dickenson hopes to clean up.
Overall, the Riders share second place in the West Division with two other 5-3 teams — Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-2) are in first place.
Next on the Riders’ schedule is the visiting Ottawa Redblacks (Aug. 24), a home-and-home set with Winnipeg (Sept. 1 at Mosaic Stadium and Sept. 7 in Winnipeg) and a home game against Montreal (Sept. 14). The Riders will then head into their final bye week.
With three of the next four games at home, there isn’t any reason why the Riders can’t continue their hot streak, even if the thunder isn’t rolling.