'It's a motivating factor': Riders looking for redemption from 2019 West Final loss
It’s a game that has been 628 days in the making, the Saskatchewan Roughriders return to Mosaic Stadium to host the B.C. Lions on Friday night.
"628 days without a game definitely puts things in perspective, so I’ll definitely just be appreciative to be out there in front of Mosaic Stadium with 30,000 plus fans," Riders receiver Shaq Evans told the media on Thursday.
The Riders’ 2019 season ended in heartbreak when Cody Fajardo’s pass sailed into the crossbar, ending the Western Final. That turned out to be the last play at Mosaic Stadium after the pandemic washed away the 2020 season.
Fajardo said having to sit on that play for almost two years was difficult, but made the team more hungry heading into this season.
"It's a motivating factor," the Riders' quarterback said.
"There's a lot of mental aspect of just sitting on that for two years and not having an opportunity to redeem yourself or go out there and wash that bad taste out of your mouth."
The excitement of returning to game action is mutual in the Lions’ locker room.
"Because of the COVID cancellation and having been so long since we were on the field, definitely excited to go and start this new year off," B.C. quarterback Mike Reilly said.
Reilly has been limited in practice this week, but expects to play in Regina on Friday.
The Lions are entering this season with a new head coach. Rick Campbell said his team is establishing its identity, but he expects the Lions to be resilient.
"They’ve really just been focused on football," he said.
Adrenaline will be pumping for the Riders when they run out of the tunnel for the first time in 20 months.
Despite having won a Grey Cup, Fajardo said this will be one of the biggest games of his life, but the team also needs to keep in mind, it’s still the first game.
"Just making sure that the guys and including myself, I’ve got to check myself sometimes and just be like, 'Look, it’s not the Grey Cup, it’s not we lose and we’re going home, there’s a lot of football, a lot of meaningful football to be played,' and so we need to settle in and just learn from our mistakes," he said.
"I’m going to try to keep the guys calm as much as I can," Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, said. "The crowd is going to fire them up, so I don’t think there’s anything we can do to try to prevent that and we want that."
With so much time between games, and no preseason, rust is likely to be a factor for both teams, but not something either side is worried about.
"The main thing [this week] was just focusing on ourselves and just make sure that we play fast and physical, and the rest will take care of itself," Evans said.
The Riders moved Thursday’s walkthrough indoors to avoid the poor air quality as a result of smoke from forrest fires. The players said they don’t expect it be an issue for them come game time.
Saskatchewan and B.C. meet at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Mosaic Stadium.