The opportunity to take a share of first place in the CFL's East Division was just sitting there for the Toronto Argonauts. Even without their starting quarterback Ricky Ray or starting tailback Chad Kackert, they needed to seize it.
But they couldn't. Instead, it was the Saskatchewan Roughriders stepping up to make their playoff intentions clear.
The East's last-place Winnipeg Blue Bombers did Toronto a favour earlier Monday by upsetting the first-place Montreal Alouettes 27-22. Beating Saskatchewan would have given Toronto a share of first place going into next week's meeting with Montreal. But the Argonauts lost 36-10, plagued by penalties, turnovers and overthrown passes.
Instead it was the Riders who made the jump, improving to 8-6 and moving into a second-place tie with the Calgary Stampeders in the West.
Saskatchewan got five field goals from Sandro DeAngelis, a one-yard touchdown push by backup quarterback Drew Willy, a 48-yard TD run by Kory Sheets and a 78-yard scoring shot from Darian Durant to Weston Dressler.
Durant completed 21 of 29 passes for 276 yards. Dressler led all receivers with five catches for 97 yards. The Argos had no answer for the CFL rookie Sheets, who crossed the 1,000-yard mark with 19 carries for 113 yards.
"That's great for him, he's a big part of what we've done and I'm very proud of Sheets," Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin said. "He came out of a free-agent camp and has worked his way up from last on the depth chart to being our No.1 tailback."
Saskatchewan has won three in a row, five of its past six, following up last week's 27-21 statement win over the league-leading B.C. Lions.
The Argos were forced to pull backup pivot Jarious Jackson on Monday in favour of third-stringer Trevor Harris.
After leading Toronto to a win in Winnipeg last week, Jackson was making his second start in place of Ray, who is out with an injured knee. This week, Jackson completed just 16 of 31 passes for 162 yards. He didn't have Kackert, either, who was out with injured ribs.
But Jackson did connect with backup Gerald Riggs Jr. on a five-yard touchdown pass. He also tossed one interception and repeatedly overthrew receivers, narrowly avoiding more picks. Toronto's only other points came on a Swayze Waters field goal.
"I'm not too happy right now. Saskatchewan kicked our butts," Jackson said. "If it wasn't one thing it was another – missed throws, protection, turning the ball over, we got our butts kicked in every phase of the game."
Harris came in for Jackson in the fourth and was 1-of-5 for three yards.
The Boatman had 17 penalties for 126 yards, had two turnovers and 213 yards of offence, just over half of Saskatchewan's 392 yards.
"I think we prepared to win, but it was the same old thing – penalties, turnovers, discipline things," Toronto receiver Chad Owens said. "You have to give them credit. They played better and beat us tonight."
With four games left in the regular season, the 7-7 Argos play host to the Als next Sunday. First place in the East means a first-round playoff bye and rights to hold the division final on Nov. 18. Saskatchewan gets a date with the Edmonton Eskimos next week, who sit just behind the Riders in the West.
"We approached this like a championship game, but we know that wasn't the full Toronto Argonauts – they're missing their starting quarterback and their starting running back," Chamblin said. "We understand the next time we face them, we'll see a different team, but regardless of their ailments, we had to take advantage, and we did that today."
THE ROAD TO THE PLAYOFFS
Saturday:Saskatchewan faces the fourth-place Edmonton Eskimos (6-8) in an important West Division matchup.
Sunday:Toronto plays host to Montreal (8-6), which lost 27-22 to Winnipeg on Monday. Not only will the winner assume first place in the East, but also win the season series 2-1, which is important because in the event of a tie, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head record. ~ The Canadian Press