It’s one of the most heart-breaking moments in Saskatchewan Roughriders history but Darian Durant it as motivation for the club’s crucial late-season run.
Saskatchewan (9-5) hosts the Edmonton Eskimos (3-11) at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday after downing B.C. 31-17 last weekend to snap a dismal four-game losing streak. The Riders certainly control their playoff destiny, finishing their regular season with five games against West Division rivals, including three at home.
Following Friday’s walkthrough, Riders coach Corey Chamblin selected Durant to address the team and the veteran quarterback’s message was simple — at this time of year players must be totally focused and pay attention to even the smallest detail. And he pointed to the ‘09 Grey Cup, where a too many men penalty against Saskatchewan gave Montreal a second chance at a last-second field goal for the devastating 28-27 victory.
“It’s a reality,” Durant said. “I wanted to let the guys know that it’s real and it can happen and if you don’t pay attention on walkthrough days or you don’t get right in certain situations it can cost you a football game, better yet a championship.
“You have to lock in.”
Chamblin said Durant’s message was loud and clear.
“Darian is the leader of this team, as the quarterback goes the team goes,” Chamblin said. “One of the greatest things about life is when you have setbacks you’re able to learn from them . . . if you can’t learn from those you’re deemed to repeat them again.”
Saskatchewan enters weekend action tied with B.C. for second in the West Division behind front-running Calgary (11-3). With the Lions visiting the Stampeders on Friday night, the Riders are in a must-win situation in their quest for a home playoff game.
And for running back Kory Sheets, playing three of the next four games at Mosaic Stadium certainly enhances those chances.
“That’s a big advantage,” said Sheets. “No one wants to come to Saskatchewan.”
A point not lost upon Durant.
“It’s all about getting into a spot where we can host a game here,” he said. “We’re still in good position, the schedule gods have set us up that we have three of these last four games here but we have to take it one at a time.
“Edmonton isn’t going to be an easy team. They’re hungry so we have to make sure we’re ready.”
Sheets ran for 80 yards and two TDs last week against B.C., his first after missing three games with a knee injury. The win over the Lions keeps the Riders in the race for a home playoff game, which they can achieve by either finishing first or second in the West Division standings.
Predictably, Sheets — the CFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,302 yards — and the Riders are thinking big.
“We’re looking for a first-round bye,” Sheets said, which would happen if the Riders finished atop the West Division standings.
Many football pundits pointed to Sheets’ return to the lineup as a big reason why the Riders snapped their dubious losing streak. But Sheets wouldn’t take the credit.
“It wasn’t me, one man being back in there,” Sheets said. “I think it was more the energy I brought.”
Sheets’ return certainly enhanced Saskatchewan’s rushing attack and gave the Riders’ offence a more balanced attack. But Durant said when the weather turns cold, having a potent ground game will certainly be an advantage.
“Kory Sheets is a concern for everybody,” said Eskimos defensive end Odell Willis. “He’s a great back in this league. He’s putting up great numbers. He’s doing great things. You have to be aware of where he is at all times.”
Another key figure could be defensive lineman Alex Hall, obtained earlier this week from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Hall has a CFL-high 15 sacks and his arrival certainly rejuvenated Saskatchewan’s defence.
“You could see a couple of D-linemen had great pass rushes during the week,” Chamblin said. “Usually when you bring a newer player in, it’s like anything else guys get excited especially when you bring in the league sack leader.”
Saskatchewan slotback Geroy Simon said he can sense his teammates getting into a playoff frame of mind.
“The intensity level is starting to ramp up,” Simon said.
But Chamblin emphasized the team continues to take the same approach it has all season, that being one game at a time.
“I’d say it’s playoff atmosphere, it’s getting cold outside,” Chamblin said. “But we still preach 1-0.”
It’s been a rough season for Edmonton, which is coming off a lopsided 47-24 home loss to Montreal. But the Eskimos still boast a solid aerial attack with starter Mike Reilly (3,345 yards, 21 TDs) and slotback Fred Stamps (59 catches for 1,066 yards and 11 TDs, both CFL highs).
Reilly started against Montreal despite suffering a concussion the week before against Toronto. He completed 13-of-21 passes for 180 yards and two interceptions before giving way to rookie Jonathan Crompton, who was 13-of-26 passing for 204 yards with three TDs and three interceptions.
“I feel good. I’m ready to play,” said Reilly on Friday. “It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be crazy.”
Despite his concussion, Reilly will not stay in the pocket if the opportunity to run presents itself.
“If that’s what the defence gives us,” said Reilly. “As long as they play the game they’ve been playing all year, I’ll play my usual style.”
Both Reilly and Stamps acknowledged Edmonton’s precarious playoff position.
“We feel good as a team. We’re fine,” said Stamps. “We’re going to take it one game at a time.”
Edmonton will be without linebacker JC Sherritt, who is out indefinitely after re-fracturing his left thumb against Montreal. The CFL’s outstanding defensive player last year initially fractured his thumb in a 30-29 loss to Hamilton on Aug. 2.
He required surgery and missed four games before returning to the lineup.
“It’s disappointing not to have JC,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed, who feels injuries must be treated with respect so they don’t get worse.
This will mark the third meeting this year between the two teams. Saskatchewan took the first two games — both in Edmonton — and will host the Eskimos again Nov. 2.
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