Hewitt Commentary: How did the Riders end up in first place?
REGINA -- It was November 2nd, and it wasn’t cold in the Mosaic Stadium stands. The sun was warm on your face. In this neck of the woods, that is very rare indeed for this time of year.
It is also very rare that the Saskatchewan Roughriders earned first place in the CFL West.
For only the second time in 43 years, the Riders will host a Western Final, after defeating Edmonton 23-13 on Saturday.
The Roughies are not the best in the West quite yet, that distinction will be decided on November 17.
Saskatchewan ended up winning 13 games after a 1-3 start, using a system that not every team has.
It’s called the belief system.
Kicker Brett Lauther missed 4 field goal attempts against the Eskimos, but when he lined up to kick a tie-breaking field goal with 1:30 left on the clock, nobody on the team had any doubts he’d make it.
Raw rookie Isaac Harker was thrown into his first CFL start, after number one pivot Cody Fajardo was sidelined with an oblique injury.
Harker played Division two football only a year ago, and suddenly had the responsibility of a possible first place finish placed squarely on his shoulders.
The whole team took that responsibility off of Isaac’s shoulders and shared it. This squad rallied around Harker, showed belief in him, and as a result, took top spot in the West.
This belief system starts with the Head Coach.
Craig Dickenson believes in his coaches and players, he puts all his trust into them, without hesitation, then just gets out of the way. That’s what good managers do, yet there are so few of them.
When I sat down to watch the game in my sunny east side seat, I was interested in one main thing.
Will Isaac Harker improve as the game wears on?
I was expecting a slow start, and that didn’t bother me at all. That was to be expected (although Harker threw a pretty good long ball to Shaq Evans who could have caught it).
Edmonton blitzed constantly, giving Harker little time with the ball, and in the early going, Isaac didn’t make them pay.
In the 4th quarter, Harker did make them pay, with great throws to both Justin McInnis and Kyran Moore.
At the end of the game, you could see how Harker had progressed, and that, to me, was all that counted.
While it was great to see that gradual improvement, the Riders will need the return of their starting QB in order to have a chance to win the Western Final.
Cody said post game he would play in the West Final no matter what.
The reality is that Fajardo has to heal. Cody’s medical updates will be the talk of the province.
The Riders late defensive touchdown, a pick six by Cam Judge, after a tip by Charleston Hughes, was such a fitting end to a successful regular season.
The defense won the game on Saturday, and a player with tremendous heart scored the last major.
Speaking of defense, what a game by AC Leonard! six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. I’m not sure Saskatchewan would have won the game without him.
I’m also not sure the Riders have the most talent in the CFL.
I’m also not sure they’ll make it to the Grey Cup.
I am sure that when they come out of the tunnel on November 17th, they will come out as one.
One is hard to beat.
Don Hewitt started covering the Saskatchewan Roughriders for CKCK-TV in 1979.