The Saskatchewan Roughriders had to wait an extra week to make their CFL pre-season debut so they weren’t about to let a 25-16 defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ruin their day.
The Riders and Bombers were originally slated to play on May 23 but the stalled negotiations between the CFLPA and the CFL over a new collective bargaining agreement forced the game to be postponed.
Saskatchewan got off to a slow start and found themselves trailing 18-3 early in the fourth quarter. A pair of late touchdowns enabled the Riders to close the gap to 18-16 but Winnipeg sealed the victory with a major with 1:45 left in regulation.
Despite the defeat, the Riders felt their fourth quarter comeback was a good indication of their capabilities.
“I think when we focus on how we finished, there’s a lot of positives to take away,” said rookie running back Frankie Hickson who gained 47 yards on six carries. “Yes, there’s some frustration there. We know that we can play better.
“We’re a lot more capable than what we showed out there. And at the end of the day, it’s just another opportunity. Another day, another opportunity.”
The Riders had some issues with fumbles and mishandled balls, something that head coach Craig Dickenson has, and will continue to, address.
“You’ve got to take care of the football. One of the things our coaches have said all camp is ball security is job security. We want to make sure we take care of that football,” said Dickenson.
Mason Fine and Jake Dolegala took most of the snaps at quarterback for the Riders with starter Cody Fajardo among the many regulars not dressed for the game.
Fine, who ended the 2021 season as the No. 2 quarterback, appears to have the upper hand over Dolegala at this point. While Dickenson said he feels Fine has shown enough to maintain his spot, the second-year quarterback isn’t taking anything for granted.
When asked if he feels the No. 2 job is his to lose, Fine wasn’t about to agree with Dickenson’s assessment.
“It’s a competition every single day. There’s a lot of great quarterbacks in that room . . . at the end of the day, I’m going to control what I can control and let the coaches and the guys upstairs make decisions.”
Both teams elected not to dress a number of the starters. Regulars who did not dress for the Blue Bombers included quarterback Zach Collaros, defensive linemen Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat, linebacker Adam Bighill, offensive linemen Stanley Bryant and Pat Neufeld, defensive back Winston Rose, and receivers Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky.
Riders starters who did not play included Fajardo, receivers Shaq Evans and Duke Williams, defensive linemen Charleston Hughes and A.C. Leonard, offensive linemen Dan Clark and Logan Ferland, linebackers Darnell Sankey and Derrick Moncrief, defensive backs Nick Marshall and Mike Edem, and placekicker Brett Lauther.
Winnipeg appeared to break the game open 2:11 into the fourth quarter when quarterback Dakota Prokup hit receiver Whop Philyor down the right sideline for a 78-yard touchdown to give the Bombers an 18-3 lead.
Saskatchewan narrowed the gap to 18-10 when Fine connected with Jester Weah on a two-yard touchdown pass. The Riders then made things interesting when Dolegala and receiver Dieuly Aristilde combined on a 12-yard TD pass to make the score 18-16 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The ensuing two-point convert attempt failed when Dolegala missed Aristilde in the end zone.
The Bombers sealed the victory when Tavaris Harrison made a diving grab of a 32-yard pass from Prokop with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Dru Brown also reached the end zone for the Bombers on a one-yard run while kicker Marc Liegghio added an 18-yard field, a single on a kickoff and two converts.
Rookie kicker Henry Nell nailed a 46-yard field goal and added a convert.
The story of the first half was the Bombers turning the ball over on downs three times inside the Riders 10-yard line. The first turnover came when Justin Herdman-Reed sacked Brown on third down from the Saskatchewan five-yard line. The other two turnovers came on incomplete passes by Prokop.
The Riders will play their final pre-season game Friday in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions. Given the circumstances of the earlier postponed game, the Riders are just looking to do their best with the quick turnaround.
“I told the guys they’ve got two days off before we play again,” said Dickenson. “The reality is you’re not going to be able to get in much better shape. You’re probably not going to get a whole lot smarter in two days. We’re not going to be smarter as coaches. We don’t make the schedule, we just do what we do and we’re still going to evaluate.”
Herdman-Reed and Pete Robertson had sacks for the Riders. Tyqwan Glass had an interception for the Bombers on Saskatchewan’s opening possession, picking off Mason Fine. L.B. Mack recorded a sack while Javon Jackson added an interception for the Bombers.
Prokop finished seven of 12 passing for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a strong game on the ground, gaining 74 yards on six carries.
Fine was 13 of 18 passing for 114 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Dolegala completed six of 10 passes for 70 yards with one touchdown and one interception.