Riders clinch West division with 23-13 win over Eskimos
REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Roughriders clinched the undisputed top spot in the West division with a 23-13 win over the Edmonton Eskimos to end the season on Saturday.
It was a battle of the backup quarterbacks with Isaac Harker starting in place of the Riders’ Cody Fajardo, who was ruled out just before the game with a back injury, and Logan Kilgore filling in for the injured Eskimo Trevor Harris.
Roughriders Head Coach Craig Dickenson said his team did not play as well as they could have in the game that cemented their position atop the West, but that Harker was not at fault for the team’s poor execution.
“[Harker] did everything we asked him to do and did a pretty good job.” Dickenson said. “I think the guys believed in him and I don’t think that had anything to do with us not playing as well as we could have.”
Harker managed the offence well, collecting 217 yards through the air and keeping the interception column on the stat sheet clear. He said it gave him some confidence early in the game being able to get into a rhythm throwing the ball.
“It’s good to know that your coach has a lot of confidence in you, and he definitely altered the game plan to me and I could see that, and feel that,” said Harker.
After a couple of stalled drives from both sides to start the game, a 49-yard Brett Lauther field goal put the Riders up to an early 3-0 lead.
The Eskimos offence got off to a slow start with Kilgore under centre managing just 197 total yards on the night.
On a second and long in the first quarter, Kilgore scrambled and tossed a pick to Riders defensive back Nick Marshall, who returned it to the Edmonton 35 yard line. A couple plays later Marcus Thigpen punched it in from the 4-yard line, to put Saskatchewan up by 10.
The Eskimos came out firing for the first drive of the second half with some trickery, after a lateral pass from Kilgore, receiver DaVaris Daniels aired it out 45 yards to Tevaun Smith to get Edmonton deep into Rider territory.
Kilgore connected with Smith again on the next play for a 14-yard touchdown.
Later, following a William Powell fumble on a tricky handoff, the Eskimos took over at the Rider 44-yard line. Edmonton drove down inside the 10, and Kilgore found Kevin Elliott in the back of the end zone to give Edmonton a 13-12 lead near the end of the 3rd quarter.
Into the fourth quarter, Lauther missed two more makeable field goals bringing his total to four missed kicks on the night. One made it through the back of the end zone for a single point, tying the game 13-13.
“It was definitely a rough one, I let the guys down multiple times tonight and just no excuses for it, I just have to be better,” said Lauther. “Honestly I felt like three or four of those ones I hit really well and I would do the exact same thing again, so it was just one of those days.”
Under three minutes remaining in the game, Harker completed a 29-yard pass to rookie receiver Justin Mcinnis to get the Riders into the red zone.
“I knew he had the length and the ability so I gave him the chance on a go ball,” said Harker. “It’s a big play and I had confidence in him and the o-line to get everybody and let me get that throw off.”
The catch came after a blatant drop from Mcinnis earlier in the game, but Harker said the duo had developed some chemistry working together for most of the year on the second team offense, so he trusted Mcinnis could make a play.
“I go with Isaac every day at practice,” said Mcinnis. “He was ready. He prepares like a [starting quarterback] every day so I didn’t expect anything less of him tonight.”
With his four misses behind him, Lauther was able to convert a 12-yard chip shot field goal with 1:30 left, to give Saskatchewan a 16-13 lead.
On the ensuing drive, linebacker Cameron Judge intercepted a tipped pass from Troy Williams, and took it all the way to the house, to clinch the game and the division for Saskatchewan by a final score of 23-13.
“I saw the tip and I said ‘well I’ve gotta make this play,’” said Judge. “It feels good though, it’s a benefit of all 12 of us working together doing our jobs, because [Charleston Hughes] getting pressure, tipping that ball, that’s what made the play, I was just lucky enough to be there.”
Dickenson said he felt nerves played a bit of a factor in his team’s “tight” play early on and he hope they can loosen up heading into the West division final in two weeks.
“Hopefully we’ll be a little better, we’ll execute a little better,” said Dickenson. “The nice thing when you’re in a playoff game you know there’s no tomorrow, and you know that you can hang it all out there, and win, lose or draw there’s no tomorrow if you get beat. So hopefully they’ll play a little looser.”
After the game, Cody Fajardo said he will be ready to play in the West division final in two weeks.
“I’m going to be ready to go. It doesn’t matter how bad the pain is, it’s playoffs so I’m going to play through it. It doesn’t matter if I get hurt even more, so I’m going to be out there with my guys until I keel over on the field,” said Fajardo.
The Roughriders finish the season 13-5 and will host the West division final in Regina.