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The Saskatchewan Roughriders took a detour on their road to the 100th Grey Cup Playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
The Riders were denied a fourth-straight victory in Edmonton, falling 37-20 to the Eskimos, who suddenly have new life and are just two points back of the Green and White for third-place in the CFL West with three games to go.
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The game looked more like a Saskatchewan alumni game, as three former Roughriders torched their former club with ease.
Quarterback Kerry Joseph fired three touchdown passes, running back Hugh Charles piled up over 150 yards rushing, while receiver Cary Koch hauled in a first half touchdown.
Funny, no one is scorning the Eskimos for employing Rider “cast-offs”. I never liked that term anyways.
True to form, Rider head coach Corey Chamblin downplayed the significance of the loss even though the team squandered a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win.
When his team wins Chamblin is quick to boot them in the pants while after losses he routinely pats them on the back. Maybe it’s different behind closed doors.
But if the Riders needed an excuse, they could point to a couple in this one. They were playing their second-straight road game within six days and took some pass interference calls at key times that greatly enhanced the Eskimos’ chances in the game.
Still, Chamblin wasn’t about to play the blame game.
“It’s one of those games where regardless of what was stacked against us, we came to play football,” Chamblin reasoned. “They fought through the elements. (The short week) is part of the game. It’s a two-headed sword. If you win, you’re sky-high. It was an adverse week. We didn’t win but we fought.”
These days, however, that’s the way things seem to go at Commonwealth Stadium, a venue where the Riders have only won nine of their last 50 visits.
As we wrote about in this space last week, Saskatchewan appears to be on a collision course for the playoffs which is a big coup after missing the post-season in 2011. The only question remaining is where will they finish and who will they play?
Having already lost the tie-breakers to division foes Calgary and Edmonton, there’s still a realistic shot of the Riders crossing over to the East Division for the playoffs with a fourth-place finish.
The Riders are looking ahead and not behind, but I’m just presenting the scenario. Road games in Rogers Centre and Olympic Stadium seem rather inviting.
And there’s no shame in crossing over either, as the Riders’ did it twice during their decade-long playoff streak in 2002 and 2005.
It just feels good to even be talking about the playoffs. As distasteful as Saturday’s loss was – and the Riders’ performance in it – it’s better to lose in October than November. And Chamblin knows it.
“One or two games and we’re where we need to be,” the Rider coach asserted. “The playoffs didn’t start today. There will be an opportunity next week also.”
That’s against Montreal, the Riders’ old Grey Cup nemesis, Saturday in Regina.