Rob Vanstone: Saskatchewan Roughriders predictably pounded punchless, pick-prone Ottawa Redblacks

Despite a flawed performance, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were nonetheless able to squelch the visiting Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday.

Share Adjust Comment Print

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo envisioned “a heavyweight fight,” only to have the Ottawa Redblacks assume the role of, say, Bob (Pretty Boy) Felstein, Dave Zyglewicz or the Bayonne Bleeder, Chuck Wepner.

The prediction emanating from this cherished space was more prescient. It was written that a “victory was assured” for the Roughriders on Saturday and, sure enough, the feckless Redblacks fell 40-18 before 32,238 eyewitnesses at Mosaic Stadium.

“We know we’re going to get their best punch coming in here,” Fajardo said early last week, ensuring that anything he uttered for public consumption would not give the reeling Redblacks any of that dreaded bulletin-board fodder.

“It’s going to be a heavyweight fight and we’ve got to be able to play all four quarters.”

The Redblacks ended up playing all three quarterbacks — Dominique Davis, Jonathon Jennings and Will Arndt — while losing for the seventh time in a span of eight games. The early-season optimism evaporated long ago.

Ottawa did sport a 2-0 record after outlasting the visiting Saskatchewan side 44-41 on June 20.

In that game, Davis threw three touchdown passes over the first 20 minutes.

On Saturday, by contrast, Davis served up three interceptions before the game was 11 minutes old.

For the record, all six passes thrown by Davis on Saturday were caught — three by Ottawa, three by Saskatchewan — before Jennings entered the game and made matters moderately, momentarily interesting.

Shortly before halftime, Jennings went deep for Dominique Rhymes and a 75-yard touchdown resulted.

If not for a missed conversion attempt by the usually automatic Lewis Ward, Ottawa would have trailed 21-13 and it would have been a one-possession game.

Brett Lauther followed up with a field goal that gave the Roughriders a 24-12 lead at intermission.

“We went in at halftime with a 12-point lead and it felt like we were down,” Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson said during his post-game yak session with the media. “It just felt weird, so I reminded the guys, ‘Hey, let’s get out there and play hard and have fun.’

“I felt like we started really fast and then I thought that in the second quarter we were sleepwalking a little bit.”

Even so, the Fade-To-Blacks were unable to capitalize upon unceasing sloppiness by the Roughriders, who were penalized 16 times for 186 yards.

It may strain credulity to poke holes in a triumphant team’s performance after a 40-18 victory, but don’t just take it from this prehistoric pundit. Take it from the victorious head coach.

“Way too many penalties,” Dickenson told CKRM’s great Derek Taylor. “We won’t beat Winnipeg playing that way.”

Bingo! (Banjo?)

An intriguing Labour Day Classic looms. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers carry a West Division-leading 8-2 record into a Sept. 1 matchup at Mosaic Stadium.

Now the meat of the season commences for the 6-3 Roughriders, who have dispensed with the preliminaries — a first-half slate laden with soup cans — in rather impressive fashion.

Saturday’s output of four offensive touchdowns gave Saskatchewan a mid-season total of 25 — as many as the Roughriders registered over 19 games (playoffs included) in 2018.

After reaching the end zone twice on Saturday, William Powell now has nine rushing touchdowns. The 2018 Roughriders managed just seven rushing majors from the running backs (Marcus Thigpen scored four TDs along the ground, one more than Tre Mason.)

Fajardo rushed for his seventh TD of the year on Saturday. Nick Marshall, last year’s primary short-yardage pivot, had a team-high seven TD runs all of last season.

Fajardo added his eighth scoring pass as the Riders’ starter, and his first such major in 195 minutes 28 seconds. The payoff pitch was snared by Naaman Roosevelt, who celebrated a touchdown for the first time since Sept. 15.

More importantly, Fajardo has gone 229:50 without being intercepted, and the most-recent pick was on a two-point convert attempt. Since he last threw an interception that was considered a turnover, 267:19 has elapsed.

Davis, by contrast, was picked off at 2:12, 6:32 and 10:23 of the first quarter. Free T-shirts were fired into the stands with less abandon than Davis threw interceptions.

Following the third interception, which Derrick Moncrief returned 35 yards to Ottawa’s 11-yard line, Roughriders cornerback L.J. McCray was penalized 15 yards for rough play and another 20 for a disqualification — the result of taking a swing at Redblacks offensive lineman Nolan McMillan, all 294 pounds of him.

Even though a heavyweight was involved, that wasn’t much of a fight, either.