Sunday is a day the Rider Nation won’t soon forget.
Amidst one of the worst summer storms in recent memory, the Saskatchewan Roughriders kicked off the 2014 CFL season in fine style with a 31-10 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Mosaic Stadium.
A few hours before game time, one had to wonder if the contest would be played at all. Regina was being hammered by driving rains that flooded out the city and caused emergencies in nearby communities.
But the show must go on and the new-look Riders certainly did put on a show.
The green defensive front sacked Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros an astounding 10 times while rookie running back Anthony Allen rushed for a whopping 156 yards with a touchdown on the ground and one in the air in his CFL debut.
There were whispers throughout the Rider locker room through training camp that this defence could be better than the one the Riders deployed in 2013 when they allowed a league-low in points.
In Week 1, they did nothing to dispel the myth.
“That’s something we’ve been talking about amongst ourselves,” admitted rush end Ricky Foley who contributed three sacks of his own. “I wouldn’t want to discredit the guys who were here last year and departed, but we’re coming out of the gate with incredible chemistry. Last year it was all new coaches and players but this year we’re much more familiar with the system. It’s ‘organic’ if that makes sense.”
The Riders had plenty of questions going into the brand new season, not the least of which was how would they replace record-setting tailback Kory Sheets who fled to the NFL? Also with two new linebackers and a new defensive tackle, how would that front seven fare?
Those questions were answered in spades and while it’s incredibly early, they received two thumbs up in their season debut.
“I thought they played with great effort and executed what we asked them to do,” said Rider coach Corey Chamblin. “The new receivers had a great start. The elements played right to Anthony Allen and he got it done. There's room for improvement, he missed a block on one play, but I thought he did a good job.”
The game itself was a Grey Cup rematch but it was a hollow shadow of last November’s CFL title game in which the Riders spanked the Ticats 45-23. While the dominance was the same, the hype was minimal. Heck, no one even brought up the fact Hamilton coach Kent Austin’s image adorns the west side of our stadium on a 7-story banner.
“I didn't get a ring for this win,” Chamblin chuckled. “It didn't feel like a Grey Cup rematch. They had Zach Collaros, not Henry Burris, and they had Craig Butler who was on our side last year. They had some animosity towards that game it felt like at times, but no it wasn't a true rematch.”
Regardless, the Riders’ mastery of the Ticats continued as they’ve beaten the Steeltowners in four straight games over the past two seasons.
But it’s not about Hamilton. It’s about the 2014 Riders carving out their own identity and proving they’ll be a force to be reckoned with as they charge towards the Grey Cup in Vancouver five long months away.
So far, so good.
Rod Pedersen is the Voice of the Saskatchean Roughriders on 620 CKRM. You can check out his award-winning blog at www.rodpedersen.com. Follow Rod on Twitter @sportscage.