CFL Pass

Riders' Cody Fajardo vows to be ready for West final

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo is already sold on the value of a well-timed bye week.

After watching his team clinch first place in the West Division with a 23-13 win over the Edmonton Eskimos, Fajardo made it clear that a first-round playoff bye is just what the doctor ordered for his injured oblique.

Either way, he’s determined to play.

“I’m going to be ready to go,” Fajardo declared after Saturday’s game. “It doesn’t matter how bad the pain is. It’s playoffs so I’m going to play through it. It doesn’t matter if I get hurt even more. I’m going to be out there with my guys until I keel over on the field.”

The Riders hope it won’t come to that.

However, they do seem relatively confident that Fajardo will return for the West final on Nov. 17 at Mosaic Stadium.

“Give him a couple weeks and he’ll be good,” said receiver Naaman Roosevelt. “We told Cody, ‘We’re going to get this bye week for you. We’re going to get you some time to heal up and get right.’ ”

The Riders were true to their word.

Although it wasn’t pretty, they took care of business in Saturday’s regular-season finale by securing a 13-5 record — one win better than the Calgary Stampeders.

“We needed it,” head coach Craig Dickenson said of the bye. “The guys are tired. If we would have got beat, we would have reloaded and played whoever we needed to next week. But we put a lot of emphasis on winning this game.”

It’s the first time since 2009 that Saskatchewan has won the West. The Riders’ last first-place finish predated two of their current longest-tenured players: Roosevelt (five seasons) and guard Brendon LaBatte (eight).

“Me and Blue were talking about it on the sideline,” Roosevelt said. “It’s his first time too and he has been here longer than I have. It’s crazy. We talked about it at the beginning of the year when a lot of people thought we couldn’t do it.

“It’s amazing what we accomplished but we have bigger goals. The Grey Cup is what we want and we have the team to do it.”

Saskatchewan may have to go through the defending-champion Stampeders (12-6), who play host to the West semi-final on Sunday versus the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-7). The winner visits the well-rested Riders for an opportunity to advance to the Grey Cup on Nov. 24 in Calgary.

“Obviously our quarterback will benefit a lot from the (extra) week, so that’s huge,” LaBatte said. “But I think there are a lot of other guys in here that the week off is going to do them good. To sit back and watch the other two teams — probably in cold weather — beat each other up, it’s a good situation knowing whoever wins is coming to us the following (Sunday).

“It’s a nice situation to be in — finally.”

Saskatchewan earned that right with the help of quarterback Isaac Harker, who made his first CFL start. The 24-year-old rookie stepped into the fire while his team’s most-outstanding-player nominee watched anxiously from the sideline.

“I wanted to play so bad,” Fajardo said. “It was a tough situation for me and the team but, honestly, I think it was the best-case scenario for us.

“I knew Isaac could get the job done. Now I get to at least have an opportunity to play in the playoffs as opposed to (taking a chance Saturday). If I go out there and get injured, I’m done for the year.”

Fajardo declined to reveal whether his oblique injury is a strain or a tear. The latter would make it unlikely that he’ll heal in two weeks, but Fajardo is talking like his return is a foregone conclusion.

In the meantime, he plans to savour a rare first-round bye.

“We deserve this,” Fajardo added. “We won the West, which is incredible. The West is so tough. A lot of guys came up to me and said, ‘We did that for you so you can buy some time to get healthy.’ I’m very grateful for having wonderful guys in this locker room — and obviously having the time off.”