Morris: Dolegala enjoying the frenetic ride in Riderville
He’s already slayed two dragons but Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback Jake Dolegala isn’t done playing with fire yet.
The Riders’ third-string quarterback has surprised most everyone but himself by leading Saskatchewan to consecutive upset wins over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and BC Lions, the top two teams in the CFL’s West Division.
Dolegala will be feeling the heat again Saturday when the Riders face the Bombers at IG Field in their annual Labour Day Weekend rematch game.
“The CFL is a league where in any given game you can win,” Dolegala said in a telephone interview from Regina after practice this week. “Winning the last two are huge to give us a lot of momentum going forward.
“I expect it to be no less than it was last week. I expect it to go right down to the wire with haymaker after haymaker. We’re just really excited for the opportunity to go to their house and continue the success that we’ve had.”
Forced into action by injuries to Trevor Harris and Mason Fine, Dolegala has completed 40 of 68 passes for 565 yards and zero interceptions in the two victories. He tossed three touchdown passes in a 34-29 win over the Lions on July 20, then threw for 326 yards in a 32-30 overtime win against the Bombers in Sunday’s OK Tire Labour Day Weekend game.
The last few weeks have moved Dolegala from the shadows to the spotlight.
“It’s been great,” said the 26-year-old from Hamburg, N.Y., who played his college football at Central Connecticut.
“As far as me personally, it’s great to get out there. It’s been a bunch of fun. The quarterback just does everything you can to make sure the team wins. I think I’ve done a decent job of that.”
One person not surprised by Dolegala’s performance is Rider head coach Craig Dickenson.
“He’s so composed when he’s back there,” Dickenson told reporters in Regina. “He just brings confidence to that unit.
“We always thought he was a good football player. He was just kind of stuck behind some other good football players. I think he’s done a good job. He’s getting better each week. I think (offensive coordinator Kelly) Jeffrey has done a good job of calling plays that suit his skill set. I am confident that he’s going to continue to get better.”
The six-foot-seven Dolegala towers over other quarterbacks in the league and many defensive linemen.
“It’s an advantage having the height,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt. I don’t think it makes a gigantic difference. I’m still playing the same position as the other guys.”
Dolegala has had to shake off some rust after seeing limited playing time early in the season.
“The game speed is a lot different than practice and you’re getting hit,” he said. “It’s a little different when the bullets are flying but I think I’m settling in pretty decently now.”
It’s also taken time for Dolegala and the rest of the offence to get on the same page.
“They’ve got to get used to my cadence, the waggle has got to be adjusted,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good relationship.
“Each group on the field has become used to me and I’ve become accustomed to what they see and what they expect. We’re gelling really well.”
“We’ve got studs across the board,” said Dolegala. “You look at each and every one of those guys, they bring a little something different.
“I have total faith in each one of them. If I put the ball in their area, they’ll come down with it. It’s just a super talented group and everybody is playing at a super high level with a lot of confidence.”
It also helped that when Jeffrey was designing the Rider offence he did it with Dolegala and Fine in mind before Harris signed as a free agent.
“We had already had meetings in the off-season about what we were going to install and how we were going to approach the season,” said Dolegala. “What we wanted to be as an offence.
“Kelly has been calling really good games lately. It suits my game really well, suits our offence.”
Like a lot of over-night sensations it’s been a long wait for Dolegala.
He was a four-year starter with the Central Connecticut Blue Devils, throwing for 8,129 yards and 48 touchdowns.
Overlooked in the 2019 NFL Draft, Dolegala bounced around the NFL with Cincinnati, New England, Green Bay and Miami before signing with Saskatchewan in February 2022.
He started one game with the Riders last year, completing 13 of 28 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 31-21 loss to Toronto.
Dolegala began the season third on the depth chart before Harris suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee in a July 15 loss to Calgary. Fine hurt his leg injury in an Aug. 11 loss to Montreal.
Despite all the negatives, Dolegala stayed positive.
“It’s having patience,” he said. “It’s having the confidence in yourself that when you do get an opportunity you feel you’re going to go out there and make the most out of it.
“I’ve always told myself I could do it. I just had to be in the right situation. I’m getting a chance now.”
Facing the Bombers again will be another test for Dolegala and the Riders.
The Bombers, frustrated by their loss last week, can clinch a playoff spot with a win.
“We’re going to their house,” said Dolegala. “Their fans are going to rock the stadium. They are going to have their wrinkles and so are we.
“Tempers are hot. We just have to stay composed. We have to be smart out there, have some really good football IQ. Play between the whistles and not have any extracurriculars.”