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Saskatchewan Roughriders ride rookie passer Isaac Harker to victory

Quarterback Isaac Harker stepped up at a crucial time of need for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Now he’s prepared to step aside.

After helping Saskatchewan clinch first place in the West Division with a 23-13 win over the Edmonton Eskimos, Harker was quick to remind everyone that he’s just a placeholder for the club’s injured starter.

“Cody Fajardo is this team’s franchise quarterback and he has proved that through this entire season,” Harker said. “I’m here to help him in whatever role he needs. I’m pretty confident he’s going to go (in the West final on Nov. 17). Whatever he needs throughout the upcoming weeks for the playoff game, that’s what I’ll do.”

The Riders needed Harker to carry the torch on Saturday afternoon.

Although their defence did much of the heavy lifting, Harker was extremely efficient in completing 82 per cent of his throws — a task that was aided by an emphasis on the short passing game.

“You know with a defence as good as ours and playmakers as good as ours that you don’t need to do too much,” he said. “They make it easy on you.”

Harker went 23 of 28 for 213 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. The latter was a critical stat, although he did throw one pick that was reversed by a penalty.

“I told him (before the game) to take care of the football,” said head coach Craig Dickenson. “Consider yourself a point guard, distribute the ball, and it’s OK if we have to punt. He didn’t give the ball up. That was the key to our game plan.”

Harker executed it well. He also received kudos from veteran guard Brendon LaBatte for his command of the huddle.

“I loved the kid in there — just the moxie, the swagger he has about himself,” LaBatte said. “He inspires confidence from everybody in the huddle. He got fiery a couple times and that was good to see. I like that out of a young guy.

“That’s a tough situation to come in and play the biggest game of the Riders’ season. He did an awesome job.”

It was a game of firsts for Harker, who made his first CFL start and picked up his first win, leading Saskatchewan to first place in the West Division for the first time since 2009.

The 24-year-old rookie conceded that it was “a lot to take in.”

“It’s crazy and you’re really thankful that you’re getting the chance to show your (ability), “ he said. “But, at the same time, your best friend is the one who’s down and he has gotten us to this point where we could clinch. I really wanted to win not only for Cody but for the whole team.”

Harker admitted to some nerves but he gave credit to offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo and quarterbacks coach Steve Walsh for guiding him through the contest. He also appreciated the support of Fajardo, who was reviewing plays and providing feedback on the sideline.

“Cody Fajardo is an asset whether he’s on the field or if he’s helping me,” said Harker, who was replaced for a few snaps by third-stringer Bryan Bennett — mostly in short-yardage situations.

Bennett rushed five times for 13 yards but left the passing to Harker.

“Isaac did a great job,” Bennett said. “It’s tough for any quarterback being a backup all year and not getting as many reps. To come out and play well is awesome but I never doubted it. Isaac prepares hard every week.”