REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Roughriders are settling into a playoff mindset this weekend, as they play host to the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium.
West Division opponents are all that remain on the schedule the rest of the way and as the cold weather begins to set in, this Week 16 matchup in early October feels like, at least to some players, one in November.
“It’s here,” Darian Durant told Riderville.com when asked about the all-important stretch drive of the regular season. “This is what playing in Saskatchewan is all about.”
“The weather changed, teams having to come in here and deal with it and it’s what we’re accustomed to, so it’s definitely that time.”
Corey Chamblin seemingly agreed with Durant’s assessment that the games are starting to feel bigge even if he’s preached the ‘one game at a time’ stance all season.
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“I’d say it’s playoff atmosphere for football, it’s starting to get a little cool outside and guys have been in this league long enough that they understand where we are, what push we’re in,” said Chamblin.
“It’s still a 1-0 type deal and we know that for us to get where we want to be when the regular season is done, then we have to be at a high level.”
The Roughriders made a statement last weekend by going on the road and handing the BC Lions their first home loss of the season, 31-17, while also ending a tough four-game losing streak.
Sitting tied with the Lions and now six points back of the first-place Stampeders, the Riders put themselves right back in the discussion for a home playoff game and possibly even a first-round bye if they can catch Calgary.
Each week Chamblin picks a player to address the team following the walkthrough, and on Friday his selection was Durant, who preached one simple thing to his team: focus.
“We have four weeks in the regular season left, three weeks after that so it’s all about locking in and we have seven weeks to go,” said Durant of his address to the team. “Lock in, we’ll be home soon enough, don’t worry about the weather, and just play football because we feel like we can be the best team in this league if we play together.”
Durant also brought up the 2009 Grey Cup, and how the smallest things can make the biggest difference between winning and losing an anecdote that may hit a sour note for some players and many fans.
That was the year the Riders appeared to have won the Grey Cup on a missed field goal from the Als’ Damon Duval, but a too many men penalty on Saskatchewan gave Montreal a mulligan. Duval made good on the re-try, leading the Alouettes a win in the big game and adding another chapter of anguish to Saskatchewan lore.
Durant’s point was that there’s a lot to learn from what happened almost four years ago, as the team must focus on the smaller details and be prepared to deal with these types of breakdowns.
“If you have too many men on the field or not enough or you miss a call, it’s just about being focused and locked in. My message was just make sure we play together,” he said. “We had a drill here where we didn’t have enough men on the field and you laugh about it today, but you never know when that situation can come up in a game.”
“I just wanted to let the guys know that it’s real and it can happen, and if you don’t pay attention on walkthrough days or if you don’t get it right in certain situations, it can cost you a football game or better yet a championship. So you have to lock in.”
Durant also pointed out that this team is more talented than the one that came within one bad penalty of winning the championship in 2009, and that if everyone plays together, there’s no reason the Riders can’t play host in the Grey Cup in late November.
They certainly played the part in last weekend’s win, returning to their earlier form when they opened the season scorching hot and had one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the league.
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Getting Kory Sheets back in the lineup made every bit of difference, as the breakout star running back had 121 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns on 20 touches in his first game back from a knee injury.
“Just coming together as a team, just clicking in all three phases and we got some guys back from injuries, we just went in and we played together the way we’ve been doing all year,” said Durant of last week’s road win.
“We had that balance offensively, defence has been doing what they’ve been doing all year and when you have that balance and teams can’t tee off on you it’s hard to stop.”
The team will also get an enormous boost on the defensive side of the ball, thanks to the addition of the league’s sack leader, Alex Hall. Hall came over in a trade with the Bombers and adds another dimension to already one of the most imposing front sevens in the CFL.
“You can see during practice, it’s one of those things I always tease, a couple of D-linemen they had great pass rushes during the week, and [Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall] and I said in the meetings ëman, we’re pretty good this week’, I said that’s because we brought Dr. Hall in, and Dr. Hall fixes things’,” said Chamblin of his team’s latest acquisition.
“Usually when you bring a new player in it’s like anything else, guys get excited, especially when you bring the sack leader of the league in so they get excited.”
While the Riders are getting into playoff mode this week, the Eskimos have been there for a little while now as they need to win every week to keep their hopes of even making the playoffs alive. With a spot in the West Division already ruled out, the Esks need to run the table and also have Montreal lose its final four games in order to earn a crossover spot in the East Division.
|The last time they met|
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Saskatchewan 30, Edmonton 27
Kory Sheets eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark, registering 139 yards and two touchdowns, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders outlasted a strong offensive performance from Mike Reilly and the Eskimos en-route to a 30-27 win.
» Read more.
After previously building some momentum though, last weekend may have been the backbreaker for the Esks, who fell 47-24 to those very same Als after going down 31-3 at the half.
With Mike Reilly constrained in the pocket and a game plan in place to get the ball out quickly, some criticized Head Coach Kavis Reed’s game plan, calling it one dimensional but Reed said the offence was getting the right looks, however just couldn’t overcome some early mistakes.
“I believe on the first three drives we were unpredictable, we were able to do the things and get the matchups that we wanted,” Reed told Esks.com. “But we put ourselves in a bad situation based on the fact that we had a couple of penalties that hurt us on the first two drives, which we felt pretty confident about.”
On the other side of the ball the Esks just didn’t have an answer for Neiswander, who continues to improve for the Als on a weekly basis. He had arguably his best game as a pro, throwing for 251 yards and four touchdown passes.
“Montreal is very efficient offensively and we didn’t play the way that we play defensively, I think their first three drives if I’m not mistaken resulted in touchdowns and we didn’t foresee that one coming,” Reed said after the game.
“Definitely not something we foresaw coming and not a part of the overall game plan that we had going into that football game.”
While the Esks are just hanging on to their slim playoff hopes with four games remaining, perhaps the most to be gained in the coming weeks is an indication of which players belong on this roster in the long-term.
Reed said there is no question about the team’s mental strength, and that could go a long way in deciding what could happen both roster-wise and coaching-wise in the off-season.
“That locker-room is made of men that I truly believe have tremendous character and I’m proud of the way they’ve handled the multiple adversities that they went through this season to date, and those men have shown growth and progress throughout the year,” said Reed.
“Our record is what our record is and it reflects poorly on us, but that locker-room is a strong locker-room and I would go to war with those guys every day and twice on Sunday.”
The Esks will be without Cary Koch in their receiving corps this weekend, while Marcus Henry is also doubtful to play. Odell Willis, meanwhile, returns to Saskatchewan for the first time since becoming an Eskimo last off-season.
This isn’t the last time these teams meet this season, as they’ll do it all over again at the same venue to close out the season in Week 19.
Kickoff is at 4:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Riderville.com/Esks.com