CFL Pass

Vanstone: Grey Cup result magnifies Riders' missed opportunity

BREAKING: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have just fumbled … again.

Meanwhile, the extent to which the Saskatchewan Roughriders dropped the ball is becoming even clearer.

They gassed a succession of delicious scoring chances while losing 20-13 to the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL’s West Division final on Nov. 17.

The outcome was, of course, heartbreaking at the time for the team and its fervent fans. But the result of Sunday’s Grey Cup, in which Winnipeg downed the turnover-prone Tiger-Cats 33-12, underlines the rare opportunity that was lost for the Roughriders of 2019.

The (erroneous) presumption here, and in other forums, was that the 15-3 Tiger-Cats would emulsify the unfortunate West representative in the Grey Cup.

Hamilton appeared to be invulnerable.

So much for that notion.

The Tiger-Cats were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached Sunday at McMahon Stadium.

Seeing that, it was impossible not to wonder how the Roughriders — whose 13-5 regular-season record was the best in the West — would have fared against a Hamilton team that fumbled, stumbled, bumbled and ultimately crumbled in the big game.

Tell-tale signs that the Tiger-Cats were distracted or overconfident were evident leading up to the 107th Grey Cup.

Tiger-Cats receiver Brandon Banks, who on Thursday was named the league’s most outstanding player, also attracted some attention while disseminating some eyebrow-raising tweets via @speedybanks87.

In one social-media exchange with the host of the eponymous Rod Pedersen Show, Banks opined that Hamilton’s Dane Evans was a better quarterback than Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo.

Then came Sunday when, predictably, Evans’ first pass was caught by somebody named Brandon.

But the recipient was Bombers safety Brandon Alexander, not Brandon Banks — to the delight of residents of Brandon, Manitoba.

Hamilton’s second possession ended when Evans was sacked by the ubiquitous Willie Jefferson, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Winnipeg’s Adam Bighill.

Andrew Harris promptly scored on a 15-yard run to give the Blue Bombers a lead that they would not relinquish.

The already formidable challenge facing the Tiger-Cats was exacerbated by an injury to Banks, who left the game in the third quarter after being one of Hamilton’s few standouts — with six receptions for 72 yards.

His Twitter account was soon deactivated.

Banks had not disappeared so quickly since the stock-market crash.

In the aftermath of a Grey Cup upset, the true cost of the Roughriders’ Nov. 17 loss became evident.

They needed to win a home game — only the second Regina-based West final in a span of 43 seasons — to secure a berth in the championship game.

The table was set, but …

Saskatchewan was 0-for-4 in red-zone, er, efficiency.

The Roughriders had three seemingly advantageous first-down situations on or inside the Blue Bombers’ five-yard line during the fourth quarter and still failed to score a touchdown.

Questionable play-calling and poor execution were a lethal combination.

Then there was Fajardo’s fateful final pass — one that clanged off the crossbar when receiver Kyran Moore appeared to be open by a step in the end zone.

Although the Roughriders repeatedly approached the goal line, their only points were provided by Brett Lauther (who had four field goals) and Jon Ryan (punt single).

And now, given the events of Grey Cup Sunday, the Roughriders really should be kicking themselves.