Riders 23 – Eskimos 13
That may have been about the most Riders way possible to clinch first place. I mean we never do things the easy way or even the pretty way… and Saturday damn sure wasn’t pretty. So I think it’s fitting that a game in which we were forced into starting a rookie QB in his first start and one in which our kicker missed 4 straight FG attempts, that’s when we clinch first. The only way it could have been any more fitting was if someone had been arrested in an incident on Dewdney following the game.
Defense needed to step up in this one and they did… albeit against a really craptastic opponent. They forced 3 big turnovers, notched 3 sacks and held the Esks to 148 yards passing (45 of which came on a WR throw). I would not have guessed it but AC Leonard was the one leading the way. At times he seemed like the only guy trying on the field. By far his most impactful game of the year and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time. While he wasn’t making sacks, I thought Micah also had a good game and was disruptive (at least at times). I wasn’t overly impressed with Gainey or McCray’s performance in this one. On that Smith TD, Gainey ran the laziest coverage I’ve seen in a while. I think a lot of credit should go to Jason Shivers. There was certainly a lot of talk about how turnovers were down but by and large this season, when we needed the D, they’ve stepped up. Without the turnovers in this one we don’t win.
Offense gave me flashbacks to the Brandon Bridge offense of 2018. The one where the OC clearly doesn’t trust the QB so we pick only 3 short passes and run them all game while trying to make someone who clearly isn’t comfortable scrambling try and be mobile. I get that a conservative O is called for with a strong D and rookie QB but there has to be limits. From my vantage point, the only time Harker looked truly comfortable was when he was pushing the ball beyond 3 yards. His first pass to Roosevelt for 10 was good. He just missed Shaq deep. He threw a perfect ball to McInnis (that he dropped). Yet we seemed to deliberately run plays that went away from that. The offensive game plan we called was really better suited to Bennett and his scrambling abilities. Overall Harker did ok. He didn’t turn the ball over at least. He didn’t really win us the game but as least he didn’t lose it.
Lots is being made of Brett Lauther’s performance. Dude got booed in his own stadium, it was bad. In all honestly I was one of the ones booing him. Look, you miss 4 straight in a game, you get booed. I still like him as a kicker and would trust him with the game on the line but he had an awful game, and the 11 points he cost us could have cost us the game. Post game he said his plan was to drink a lot of beers and try and forget this happened. I will do the same to show my solidarity with him. He's still a good kicker and you know he'll be reliable in the playoffs.
But more than Lauther, if we had lost this game it would have been on our coaches. Too many mistakes were made by them. The decision to gamble on third and one from our own 34 in a game where the Esks were doing nothing and we had a 2 score lead was bad. It was made worse by running off tackle. We had second down to try that east-west stuff. On third down in your own end run forward! Then that abomination at the end of the half was something. I don’t know how Harker got so confused on a called sneak (that should have at least been a toos to the endzone) but as soon as it became apparent that he was taking too long, Dickenson needed to call a timeout and kick a FG. Lauther may have missed (haha, just kidding... kinda) but at least its better then running a useless sneak as time expires.
I need to switch gears back to positive now. For all my criticisms of the coaches and players, they needed to be commended for what they accomplished. First F’N place!!!! Few outside that room likely thought it was possible but they believed and got it done. With our QB hurting a 2 week break while our potential opponents beat the hell out of each other is massive. Not only that, we are 1 win away from the Grey Cup. One win on home turf away. Better stock up on Pilsner and Wisers now because there could be an impending shortage.
Other random thoughts:
- The reffing was not good and it negatively affected both teams throughout the game as well as the fans.
- Another day, another game where Kyran Moore caught every one of his targets. He gets less hype than Shaq but Moore is developing into one hell of a receiver.
- For all my criticisms of Jon Ryan, I do need to say that he is an excellent holder. Underappreciated but important skill. Salvaged at least one bad snap. He also punted pretty good in this one.
- For anyone who wasn’t at the game, during the pre-game they asked fans to “light it up” by turning their phone lights on. Only problem is that is was the middle of the day. The sideline guy quickly moved on when it became apparent what a terrible idea it was.
To be fair to Gainey on the lazy coverage during the Smith touchdown, it's easy to look lazy when the receiver gets a four yard/two second running head start on the play.
With Fajardo out & Eskimos playing guys who haven't seen the field all year, never have I seen a game with 1st place on the line that so resembled a pre-season tilt. The big positive is we won the game with Harker. His stats weren't bad but the Rider fans who think he can step in like a Dane Evans, Arbuckle etc, he's not that guy. It's also unlikely at the salaries these guys get he'll be around long. Fajardo is 27 so expect a lot of "next ones" parading through Regina. If Cody can repeat this season & not be the next Jennings or Printers, Franklin etc etc, he'll be the starter for a long time yet. But that's for next year.
To the game. Lauther has been money when we need a FG to win the game but he has been very ordinary this year - 78% on FG's is not good, 27 of 31 on converts not great. Maybe we don't need him at the end if he put more through during the game. That this Eskimo squad hung around to the final minutes isn't great news. Maas, in a mood to throw away the game I guess, put in their 4th string QB at the end who promptly gift wrapped a pick 6 to seal the deal with the game still in doubt. There's a lot to clean up before the final & hope Fajardo is reasonably healthy.
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