July 17, 2023

Steinberg’s MMQB: A wild West shootout

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

After how the first two games between Calgary and Saskatchewan have gone, it’s too bad we won’t get to see these rivals play again until October. Saturday was another epic instalment in this long-standing rivalry and the second bonkers finish we’ve seen this season.

If you remember, Week 3 saw the Stampeders erase a late 10-point deficit and force extra time on a Rene Paredes field goal with 11 seconds remaining before a Nic Marshall end zone interception of Jake Maier preserved the overtime win for the Riders. The script was somewhat reversed over the weekend to even more dramatic affect.

This time it was Sask with the late game heroics. Mason Fine’s 69-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Jones on third-and-23 will go down as one of the most memorable moments of the season…and it didn’t win the game. That’s because, with 36 seconds remaining, Maier put together a great five-play, 30-yard drive to get Paredes in position for a 50-yard game winner. It was an epic finish to what was must-see TV all night long.

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There were so many standouts at Mosaic on Saturday night. Fine’s work in relief of Trevor Harris (more on that shortly) was strong; he threw for 116 yards and two touchdowns in less than a quarter of action. And Mario Alford was electric in returning a pair of punts for touchdowns, both in out-of-your-seat fashion.

On the winning side, Maier put together by far his most promising game of the season. Calgary’s starting quarterback threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns and looked far more comfortable stretching the field than at any point this season. Maier seemed especially in sync when airing it out to Reggie Begelton and Luther Hakunavanhu.

But my biggest takeaway from Saturday’s thriller was how good the Stamps looked on defence. Prior to going down, Harris and the Riders struggled to move the ball thanks in large part to Calgary’s relentless pressure up front. The Stampeders finished with seven sacks, including two each from James Vaughters and Mike Rose. It was a masterclass from that front four.

While neither Calgary nor Saskatchewan has played quite to the level of either the Lions or Bombers in the West Division, both teams have shown us stretches of strong football. And they’ve played one another in a pair of outstanding games.

Let’s see where the Roughriders and Stampeders are when they meet in this year’s rubber match in Week 19.

Fingers crossed

The Roughriders are hopeful that Trevor Harris could return this season, but will turn to Mason Fine at QB in the interim (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Seeing Harris go down the way he did in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss was hard to watch and just adds to Saskatchewan’s injury woes, especially on offence. But there are a few potential positives coming from the aftermath.

First off, the Riders aren’t ruling Harris out for the rest of the season despite the news he’ll need surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee. It’s a slight door open for a team that should be fighting for a playoff spot at the very worst come the final quarter of the season.

“We are optimistic Trevor will make a full recovery and are not ready to rule out a return at some point later in the season,” the team’s statement said.

“We know Trevor will tackle his recovery with the same focus and tenacity he shows on the football field.”

On top of that, I liked what I saw from Fine in his limited work. Now in his third CFL season, Fine already has a pair of professional starts under his belt going back to late last year. Even before Harris’s injury, I’ve been curious about what Fine could do with more work and thought it was the right call to hand him the ball down the stretch in 2022.

Unlike then, though, everything is still on the table for Saskatchewan. As we wish Harris a speedy recovery, it’s time to see what Fine is all about.

Staying with it


Knowing they’re going to be without Jeremiah Masoli and Tyrie Adams the rest of the season, the Ottawa REDBLACKS must have been rather apprehensive watching Dustin Crum’s first two quarters as a CFL starter on Saturday. But any nervousness turned into elation as Crum put together one of the most spectacular comebacks in recent memory to secure Ottawa’s second win.

When it was all said and done, the rookie quarterback finished with 261 yards passing and a touchdown to go along with 74 rushing yards and two more majors as the REDBLACKS stunned Winnipeg 31-28 in overtime. And it was Crum’s ability to put a frustrating first half behind him that impressed the most.

Crum’s first start reminded me a lot of Maier’s league debut going back to 2021. Much like Crum, Maier had a dreadful beginning on that August night in Montreal before eventually leading Calgary to a 28-22 victory. Crum just opted to make things a little more dramatic over the weekend.

After Brandin Dandrige gave Ottawa life with a pick-six touchdown, Crum and Nate Behar hooked up on a two-point conversion to get the team within eight. Then it was a 12-yard scramble for a touchdown and another two-point convert to Behar to send the game to overtime. And then that 29-yard touchdown run to seal a REDBLACKS victory.

I don’t know what we’re going to see from Crum going forward, but he has certainly quieted any quarterback panic in Ottawa for the time being. Crum is up against that stifling Stampeders’ defence on the road in Week 7.

Quick hits

Good on Hamilton for making it two straight wins after knocking off Edmonton 37-29 on Thursday. I’m liking what I’m seeing from the linebacker duo of Jameer Thurman and Simoni Lawrence of late; they combined for 15 defensive tackles against the Elks. And James Butler was the beast we know he can be. How about 167 offensive yards and a touchdown in his best showing with the Tiger-Cats?

Finally, it’s starting to feel rather ho hum when the Argos win like they did 35-27 in Montreal on Friday. Now 4-0, Toronto is firing at a high level at key spots across the board. Chad Kelly had four more touchdowns at quarterback while AJ Ouellette went for 95 yards on the ground. On defence, Folarin Orimolade, Shawn Oakman, Adarius Pickett and Wynton McManis are making plays all over the field. There’s no question who the CFL’s best is right now.

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