Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Honeymoon is over.

Most of us have experienced the joy of meeting and courting your life long mate where everything is beautiful and nothing evil comes along to spoil the scenario which culminates with marriage and a Honeymoon .Then after the Honeymoon is over harsh reality sets in and some times it is not kind.That is the kind of world the 2007 edition of the Saskatchewan Roughriders find themselves in today.

The first nine games of the 2007 season under new Head Coach Kent Austin were incredible from an achievement point of view. The club won seven ,five in a row and had a record of seven and two and were perched in first place in the Western Division of the CFL something the Saskatchewan crew has not done since 1976. The team was third or fourth in most offensive categories and second or first in points scored for most of August and defensively they were the unbelievable leaders in 20 of 26 defensive categories as well including till this past weekend fewest points allowed. It was heaven, a fantasy world, Rider fans were delirious as they could not believe the teams good fortune.

Mosaic Stadium at a capacity of 28800 was being sold out on a regular basis and some long time die hard fans were already planing the Grey Cup Parade route. Austin was being touted as Coach of the year and Kerry Joseph as player of the year Then came September with the annual Labour Day encounter with the Bombers where the team played lousy but managed to squeak out a last minute 31-26 victory.

Then one week later in the Manitoba Capital harsh reality set in when the team was manhandled by the Blue and Gold 34-15 and many say the score flattered them. However everyone felt they would rebound like they did after the 42-12 shellacking at the hands of the BC Lions at home in July.They were also playing the Stampeders next who had five wins of which three were over the Eskimos and one each over the Argos and Ti-Cats .They also had one tie with the BC Lions but for all intents and purposes had not beaten a team with a winning record and Saskatchewan had according to them a sensational week of practice in preparation for the Alberta jaunt

Saturday afternoon in Cowtown belonged to the Cowboys as they dominated the game in every area from start to finish hammering the Prairie folk 44-22 which means The Green Machine have been outscored 78-37 in the last two weeks The 44 points scored by the Stamps were the mostthe Riders have given up this year in any one game..The concerns that Austin had about the lack of proper tackling and the confusion that was displayed in the secondary in the Winnipeg game were even more pronounced on Saturday afternoon. We all were concerned about the lack of experience in the secondary coming into the season but felt that the worries were unfounded after the first nine games ,however the secondary has been dissected by two former Rider signal callers Kevin Glenn and Henry Burris in the last week giving up huge chunks of yardage.

One must remember the club has not faced receiving corps of this calibre all season long as Winnipegs Milt Stegall, Terrance Edwards , and Derrick Armstrong are one , three and five in the CFL,s current reception category. The Calgarians have three of the best as well with Nick Lewis, Kenyon Rambo and Jermaine Copeland all of who were off to a slow start but now seem to have found a groove. Still the fact of the matter is that the Rider secondary was beaten badly in the last two games and you have to wonder how can they have played so well in the first nine games and then collapse completely in the last two.It has to drive a perfectionist like Defensive Co-ordinator Richie Hall crazy.

This team at one time led the league in Quarterback sacks but have had only three in the last three games as it appears "Chunky and Chick" Marcus Adams and John Chick are not getting the job done pressure wise on the one side of the defensive line similar to what proven veterans like Scott Schultz and Fred Perry are doing on the other side. The puzzling factor is that they had been effective earlier in the season. however in the last two game Burris and Glenn have had all day to pick out their open receivers.

The Riders miss the great Matt Domiguez their leading reciver and number one yardage wise in the entire CFL who they lost on Labour Day for four to six weeks but even he could not have affected the result on Saturday.

Austin was noticeably shaken up after the game and in addressing the team stated that immediately every aspect of the team was going to come under review including his own coaching staff. It has to be annoying, frustrating, maddening or whatever other adjective you want to use for the Rookie Head Coach to see this 180 degree turnaround of his charges in the last two games and answers have to be found quickly as next Saturday the BC Lions who are now one point ahead of us in first place will be in town. It is hard to comprehend how the players that played so well in the first nine contests could have all of a sudden lost it.Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

We are still in first place

You have to look at things from a positive viewpoint and the fact of the matter is that we still have the best record in the CFL despite the embarrassing trouncing in Winnipeg in The Banjo Bowl . The Riders are seven and three with eight games to go split evenly between four at home and four on the road. Their vaunted number two ranked defence going into the Winnipeg game fell apart allowing Kevin Glenn to complete 25-33 for 285yards and kill the Rider secondary with his quick release which is with Dave Dickenson on the injured list the quickest release by a current CFL signal caller .The fact that he has three receivers of the calibre of Milt Stegall, Terrance Edwards , and Derrick Armstrong and a running back like Charles Roberts at his disposal makes the Bomber offence almost impossible to stop.

The bottom line is Winnipeg executed , we did not. We left too many big plays on the field.The big plays we made last week we did not make this week. Kerry Joseph has to make quicker reads against this kind of defence. -our offence should be set up for quick passes like Winnipegs
offence. Use that to set up the deep ball.

The fact of the matter is the Bombers won the game in the trenches with their offensive line anchored by former Rider great Andrew Greene and Dan Goodspeed doing a sensational job of protecting Glenn and allowing him an extra second or two to pick out his second or third receiver if his primary target is covered.He has access to three of the top five receivers in the league with Stegall number one and Armstrong and Edwards being fourth and fifth.Charles Roberts at tailback with his ability to squeeze thru the smallest opening and then accelerate and pick up critical yardage in crucial situations makes the overall offensive personnel a Quarterbacks dream.

The Bomber defence which is now amongst the league leaders in Quarterback sacks performed at a high level as well constantly forcing Kerry Joseph and later Marcus Crandall to get rid of the football quicker then they wanted to or else be sacked. Their front four composed of defensive ends Gavin Walls and Tom Canada and defensive tackles Doug Brown and Jerome Haywood is the best in the league and middle linebacker Barron Simpson is in a class by himself. Their secondary and linebacking crew which just got better with the arrival of cornerback Jauron Bolden and linebacker Ike Charlton from the NFL after being final cuts of Tampa Bay and Detroit should rank near the top in the league by seasons end.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have had a terrible time winning games in Winnipeg as since 1991 they are two and sixteen in the Manitoba capital and one and 13 in the last fourteen played at the back end of the Labour Day week.

The Bomber domination was exemplified by the fact that their punter Rob Pikula did not punt until the eight minute mark of the third quarter.

The Green and White had won five straight going into this one after a dissapointing last minute 21-20 loss in Edmonton on July 20th. The last game where they were totally outplayed comparable to Sundays whipping was on July 13th when they were hammered by BC 42-12 .

The question is can they rebound again and how serious is Matt Dominguez there leading receiver hurt. If they win all four of their remaining home games that would give them eleven victories which should almost certainly qualify them for the playoffs and most likely with the tight race in the West give them a home playoff birth.

The next game in Calgary will indeed be another challenge as the Stampeders are red hot having defeated the Eskimos twice within five days and Henry Buriss is playing as well as he has ever played as he and offensive Co-ordinator George Cortez appear to be finally on the same page.The Stampeder receiving aggregation is pretty good as well with Jermane Copeland, Nick Lewis ,and Kenyon Rambo all breaking out of their early season slump and Canadian off season acquisition Ryan Thellwell from BC had his best game as a Stampeder last week in Edmonton.

The facts are the facts and three of the Stampeder five victories have been over Edmonton and the Calgarians have yet to beat a team with a winning record although they did tie the Lions. If they win on Saturday they would be one point behind the Roughriders who need the victory badly to stay ahead of BC and the Stampeders.

This game will be a true test of how good this Roughrider team really is and how badly do they want to finish first in the West.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Simply the best

Robert Wayne Mcintyre my old Victoria buddy stated it most appropriately when he said it was simply the best Labour day classic of all time. I alluded to the fact in last weeks blog that I considered the 1951 and 2002 contests my favourite all -time labour Day games but I have to admit this years contest topped them both. Mcintyre called it the greatest Rider win since the 1989 Grey cup game.Mcintrye went on to say that what Canadian Football fans saw on Sunday from Mosaic Stadium was the CFL at its absolute best.Most reporters and fans that I talked to on coffee row this morning were left speechless in attempting to describe their emotional swings during this hectic contest where momentum swung back and forth for sixty minutes.

It was a typical Labour Day weekend with 4000 Bomber fans in attendance at the game who after spending a couple of days in Regina partying till all hours of the morning the previous two nights left the Queen City disappointed with the games final result however they should not feel that way because it was one of those encounters were either team could have won and from an entertainment point of view there were no losers.

The Bombers put on a spirited show led by a couple of former Roughriders Quarterback Kevin Glen and wide receiver Derrick Armstrong.Glenn had his best game of the season completing 27 of 36 attempts for 393 yards and three touchdowns with Armstrong on the receiving end of thirteen of those attempts. Armstrong gave the Rider secondary fits all through the game with some great moves and circus catches that made him almost impossible to cover.

The Rider defense came up big when they had to and held Charles Roberts to 83 yards which in itself is an amazing accomplishment.

Kerry Joseph was good on 20 out of 32 passing attempts for 384 yards and two touchdowns but it was his running ability which turned out to be the deciding factor in this contest as he rushed nine times for 74yards the big play being the 27yard run on a Quarterback draw for the wining TD with 12 seconds left on the clock.

The 31-26 victory moves the Riders back into first place in the West one point ahead of BC and makes the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg next weekend a game that everyone will want to watch to see if it matches the thrills and chills of the Labour Day contest.The Riders never gave up in this one even though they were down 18-10 at half time which is another tribute to Kent Austin and his coaching staff.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It should be a classic

The annual Labour Day Clash between the Bombers and Riders has featured some of the wildest and woolliest Football in the history of the CFL .The unpredictable and illogical performances have been the norm over the years and it does not matter where these two teams are in the standings this game always brings out the best in both. It will be the first time since 1976 when the teams were first and second in the West that both have been as high in the standings as they are going into this game. If the Alouettes beat BC in Vancouver on Friday night then Saskatchewan remain in first place in the West and Winnipeg slip to second in the East. If BC wins the Riders drop to second in the West and The Bombers remain first in the East. The game was originally played on the actual and official Monday of the Labour Day weekend but was changed to the Sunday many years ago without any logical or official explanation being put forward.

There have been many stories written about this annual contest played in Regina in which several thousand Bomber fans journey to Saskatchewan for the weekend and generally speaking make their presence felt.The weekend celebrations and high jinxes that go on are similar to Bowl games in United States College Football with the fans of both teams getting dressed up in their favourite teams colours with some of the most outlandish costumes you will ever see complete with the appropriate face painting .

The stories that eminate from the on field performances are getting embellished more and more each year as time passes and the hero of the days performance becomes almost saint like as time passes. There are two games that stick out for me.The first one was in 1951 when the game was played on the Labour Day Monday and it featured two legendary ex NFL Quarterbacks who had come to the CFL that year, the immortal Glen Dobbs with the Roughriders and the hated and despised Indian Jack Jacobs with the Bombers. Jacobs had sustained a leg injury the week before and was listed as doubtful so backup signal caller Canadian Pete Petrow got the call to start the game for the Bombers against a Rider club that was 4-0 at the time and everybody in Saskatchewan was going nuts similar to the way things are today.Dobbs had thrilled Rider fans in their four victories and the City was renamed Dobberville by the media.

I came in from my home in Rouleau with my good buddy Don Perkins in the back of a truck to see the game and we sat on the east side and by halftime Saskatchewan under Dobbs leadership had a comfortable 22-0 lead and were looking invincible and at this time a touchdown was worth five points. . The third quarter was scoreless and to start the fourth the Bombers with possession of the football at their own thirty five sent Jack Jacobs injury and all into the game which brought many a loud guffaw from the 12000 rabid Rider fans in attendance. On the first down play Jacobs dropped back and hit flanker Bud Korchack in full stride in the open and he went in standing up for the touchdown on a 75 yard pass and run play.The crowd was silent , you could have heard a pin drop. But the Rider fans quickly breathed a sigh of relief as there was a flag on the play as the Bombers were called for offside which negated the play and as well Winnipeg were assessed a five yard penalty and the down was repeated. On the next play the cocky , arrogant Jacobs threw the very same pass to running back George Macphail who lined up as a wide receiver on the other side of the field and he went unmolested eighty yards for the touchdown which counted and with the convert the score became Sask.22 Winnipeg 6. and Rider fans began to mutter and twitch as they did not like what they had seen but most of them thought the lead was too insurmountable for even Jack Jacobs to overcome.Wrong ! The Riders did nothing offensively in the fourth quarter and on the succeeding three Winnipeg possessions Jacobs wound up throwing three more long TD passes and the final score was The Bombers 24 -The Riders 22 .It was the first loss of the season for the Green and White and the huge crowd went home shaking their heads in disbeleif at what they had just witnessed.

The other one that fits into the remarkable category as far as I am concerned was the 2002 affair which saw the high flying Khari Jones led Bombers who were number two in the West meet the injury riddled and struggling Prairie Sod Busters who were down to their third string Quarterback Rocky Butler a raw rookie just out of Hofstra University because of injuries to Nealon Greene and Kevin Glenn their first and second stringers. The Bombers were the defending Western Champions and were highly favoured to mutilate and carve up the Riders in this one as their defensive linemen were licking their chops thinking of what they were going to do to the rookie signal caller in his first start in of all games the Labour Day battle.

Rocky Butler lived up to the name Rocky so personified by Sylvester Stallone in the movie Rocky about the underdog boxer who had no chance but came thru big when the chips were down. All Butler did was catch the over aggressive ,overperusing Bomber defence off guard on three major occasions where he ran up the middle for touchdowns and lead the Riders to the biggest upset of the Labour day weekend in front of 31000 delirious Green and White fans.

The 2007 contest has all the earmarks of a real dandy with the prodigal son the beloved Cory Holmes returning to the Saskatchewan scene and the always dangerous record setting Milt Stegall on the other side of the field and both teams fighting for top spot in their respective divisions So fasten your seat belts it should be a classic.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Holy Cow what a ball game !

In the words of the immortal New York Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto "Holy Cow what a ball game" and what a game it was.The longest to be ever played at Mosaic Stadium something like four hours and ten minutes as it unofficially ended at 12.10 AM Sunday morning.August 19 2007. The result of this thriller is that the Saskatchewan Roughriders won 39-32 in a game halted at the beginning of the fourth quarter because of lightning that coincided with a torrential downpour..Would you believe moments later the power was lost at Mosaic Stadium.and the lights went out. . After all was said and done after the game resumed and the rest of the fourth quarter was played the Green and White guys were ---NUMERO UNO---TOP OF THE HEAP.How good can it get ?It was one for the ages that will never be forgotten and the brave ones from the sellout crowd of 28800 who were still in the stands till the end went wild at the end of the rain delayed fourth quarter. This is fabulous .Now the team gets a week off as do all Western teams before the second half of the schedule starts with the annual Labour Day contests. So till at least late Friday August 31st after the game in BC between the Lions and Alouettes the Roughriders are in first place in the West.

This team is really learning to win in many ways and as has been said before winning is contagious as it spreads from player to player on the team as they play more relaxed and thus better as they realize they don't have to win the game all by themselves as they know their teammates also feel the winning virus and are equally relaxed and thus better.

This was a character win to say the least and it showed all and sundry just how bad this team wants first place in the West a position they have not been in at this time of year since 1976.
The Riders were down 22-10 midway thru the second quarter and were not playing very well as Eskimo signal caller deluxe Ricky Ray had connected on eleven straight passes and was looking unbeatable. However in the last six minutes of the half Kerry Joseph took charge of the Rider offence with some nifty running and pin point passing and marched them downfeild for two touchdowns and a 24-22 half time lead.

The third quarter was all Eskimos and with the wind behind them they regained the lead even though their touchdown came off a Jason Goss interception and they lead going into the fourth quarter and had possession of the ball and on third down on their first series with the raining start to come down heavily the usually reliable Sean Fleming simply dropped the slippery football as he went to punt it and an the ever alert Scott Schultz fell on it for the Roughriders.

Then the game was called because of the storm. When it resumed fifty five minutes later it was all Riders as they kept the Eskimos off the score sheet and got a feild goal and single off the foot of Luca Congi and the winning touchdown on a two yard run by Joseph after he had set it up with a long pass and run play to Matt Dominguez who had another spectacular game with seven receptions for 170 yards and it is those YAC yards {yards after catch} that make Matt so valuable.

The Rider defence which had played poorly in the second quarter tightened up dramatically in the fourth quarter as they finally figured out how to nullify the crossing patterns that had worked so well for Ray and his receivers particularly Kamau Peterson in the first three quarters.

Kerry Joseph had another sensational game with timely running to go with one of his best passing efforts of the season and he continues to display the running style he showed us in Ottawa when he ran for over one thousand yards and his ability to run continues to keep defences off balance because in most cases it is ad lib running and not a called play.

The loss of one of the finest offensive tackles in league history Gene Makowsky to mononucleosis did not present as big a problem as was initially anticipated as Wayne Smith moving from left guard to left tackle seemed to be right at home. D. J. Flick also had another spectacular evening with a couple of fabulous receptions and continues to compliment Dominguez as a big play performer.

The fans loved this one even though the contest was delayed fifty five minutes because of the storm as a league rule states that a game cannot be played if an electrical storm occurs. Coffee row will be buzzing all week with stories of how wet the fans were who held on till power was returned and how the Riders came back from what appeared to be a certain defeat in the early moments of the second quarter to record one of their most memorable wins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Riders can not fall into a trap

The Saskatchewan Roughriders must not let themselves get overconfident as they approach their second meeting at home against the Eskimos in three weeks.On Saturday July 28th they completely manhandled the Northern Alberta crew to the tune of 54-14.Since then they have defeated the BC lions and Toronto Argonauts and in so doing have outscored their opponents 99-36 in their last three games and have the number one offence and defence in the CFL and are ranked number one overall. This is a situation where overconfidence could easily become a problem however rookie Head Coach Kent Austin is not about to let that happen.

The Riders face an Eskimo team that is wounded both mentally and physically.The proud wining Green and Gold tradition of not missing the playoffs in 34 consecutive years came to an end last year and the Edmonton crew are determined to not miss the playoffs for two years in a row. The Eskies will limp into Mosaic Stadium with possibly ten of their early season roster personnel on the injured list including their two best offensive linemen Dan Comiskey and Kevin Lefsrud among the wounded and they will both be missed more than any of the other injured warriors.It appears that veteran receiver Jason Tucker and starting defensive back Shanon Garrett will also not be dressed.

A couple more losses and there could be some big changes in the Northern Alberta City as many of the media are hollering for Head Coach Danny Maciocia,s scalp and if a change were to be made it would be interesting to see who would succeed the beleaguered pint sized Coach now in his third year as the Head honcho. Edmonton COO Rick LeLacheur. vehemently supports Maciocia but that support is not universal as there are those on the board of Directors who would like to see offensive Co-ordinator Jacque Chapdelaine take over and others including former Head Coach, General Manager and team President Hugh Campbell who are leading the charge for Campbells son Rick currently the defensive Co-ordinator to take over.However that is unlikely to happen as the Igloo dwellers currently have the worst defense in the CFL.

The good guys in Green and White realize to a man know how important this game is as if they are triumphant for the second time in three weeks over the Eskimos they will find themselves either alone in first place or at worst in a tie with the Leos for Western Division leadership depending what happens in the game between the Stampeders and Lions Friday night in Calgary.I cannot remember the last time Saskatchewan beat Edmonton twice in a row and certainly not within a period of three weeks.

The fanatic football fans of this province are in a giddy state right now as they have waited so long for the club be in the position they currently are as the last time the club went into the Labour Day classic in first place was in 1976 and the fact that could be their status after Saturday night has coffee rows throughout the province buzzing. So many of the thirty to thirty five year old fans I talked to cannot believe the teams good fortune because most of their life they have seen the Roughriders struggling to not just make the playoffs but sometimes to win just a few games in order to keep the franchise alive.

It is virtually one year ago that General Manager Eric Tillman arrived in Regina to straighten out the mess and chaotic state of affairs that Roy Shivers had this franchise in and I am certain that in his wildest imagination he would not have beleived in a turnaround in the teams fortunes of this magnitude taking place. There have been no arrests and no negative off the field incidents that got so much ugly attention in recent years .Overall there is a belief out there that this team is for real and the past should be forgotten about.

Kent Austin creates an atmosphere where a quiet even keeled confidence prevails and things should just get better and it should all begin with another sound whipping of the hated and despised Eskimos on the weekend.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Riders deserve number one ranking

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are ranked number one in the CFL after there victory over the Toronto Argonauts 34-13 on Friday night. It is a well deserved ranking as the they have outscored their opponents 99-36 in their last three games in which their league leading defence has performed at an incredibly high level with relentless consistency and leads the league in virtually every defensive category.. Richie Hall the Riders defensive Co-ordinator it has been suggested by some fans should be considered for Coach of the year even though he is not the Head Coach here a position which he will most certainly assume somewhere in the league within the next two years because he had done such a fantastic job with Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan secondary with the loss of veteran all-Star defensive back Eddie Davis has very little experience but is playing together like a well oiled machine and has not been burned for the long pass in crucial situations and conversely the secondary has made the big interception at critical stages of the Riders five wins to date.

This team has momentum which is defined in Websters Dictionary" as a movement or force gathering energy at an unstoppable progressive rate designed to achieve a satisfactory result or goal".This all comes from the head man head Coach Kent Austin who has this team focused and prepared and in a positive frame of mind on each and every play. The veteran coaching staff with forty two years of combined CFL experience is displaying why their experience is so important and it is very simple they know this league and what it takes to win.They know the players on the other teams from either having been on their coaching staff or having played them a number of times in the past .There is no learning curve involved for this Coaching staff as there is on other CFL coaching staffs who have brought in newcomers to the CFL who may have impressive coaching records but are new to this league.

It appears that Eric Tillmans master plan is working and he has only been on the scene for a year and yet has picked up the pieces from the Barrett Shivers regime and turned everything around into a positive classy professional situation where first class performances both on and off the feild are expected.

The Riders won Friday nights game with a heads up performance and once again their ability to make the big play when it counted the most.Fridays game could have been closer ,an interception by Toronto instead of a catch by D.J. Flick deep in Toronto territory and no fumble by Bashir Levingston on the wide Luca Congi field goal attempt and we would have had a different game. But good things happen to good teams and this team is learning to win in all manners and they enjoy winning.

The off season trade that brought D.J.Flick and Wayne Smith from Hamilton here , and the acquisition of running back Wes Cates from Calgary are classic examples of Eric Tillmans shrewd ability to give up virtually nothing for difference makers. Wes Cates and Flick have been big play performers since they arrived with Cates being chosen as the TSN Gladiator of the game for the Roughriders on Friday night while Wayne Smith who has been nursing a nagging injury had his best game as a Roughrider on the offensive line showing a lot of hustle and leadership.

Quarterback Kerry Joseph again managed the game very well mixing up his passes with timely affective running on his part in tight crucial situations which kept the Argos off balance and picked up first downs to keep drives alive.

Its the Riders third win in a row and vaults them into unfamiliar territory with British Columbia at the top of the Western Division at 5-2 . The Lions are in trouble without first string Quarterback Dave Dickenson and face Calgary on Friday night at McMahon Stadium and with a Stampeder victory and a Rider win over the Eskimos on Saturday night at Moscaic Stadium the Green guys would have a record of 6-2 and be all alone in first place going into the Labour day classic with the Bombers which is a position they have not been in since 1976.