While the Saskatchewan Roughriders must be happy with the total domination they had over the Edmonton Eskimos Sunday afternoon, in the back of their mind will be the one point that got away. Saskatchewan put on a clinic on how to play prairie football in the cold and the wind, as they ran and passed their way to a huge lead over the Eskies, who for most of the game resembled someone on the side of the road after the blizzard has roared through.
Saskatchewan entertained the over 30,000 packed into Taylor field as they rolled across the frozen turf over and over again, taking a 31-1 lead into the dressing room at half time. The first quarter only gave Edmonton a single point and that would be their last points until the later stages of the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, Henry Burris used the strong Saskatchewan wind to his benefit leading his offence down field three consecutive times for touchdowns. Rider running back Corey Holmes was a one man wrecking crew for the Riders, Holmes was forced into the lead running back position when Kenton Keith was injured in the first quarter, given the chance to carry the ball he accounted for fourteen points. One on a crashing run into the Eskimo end zone and the other on a punt return, on the way to his offensive splurge Holmes accumulated 120 yards rushing. Burris padded his stats with touchdown passes to Moore and French and ran one in for himself as part of the 40 point rout.
For most of the game the Eskimos were not part of the production, seemingly incapable of dealing with the cold weather, nor the hot Saskatchewan offence. The Green and Gold struggled through the day, offensively anaemic their quarterback Jason Maas struggled to hold on to the ball. On Defence the Riders could not be stopped, Burris picked apart the secondary while Holmes ran holes through the Defensive line. Coach Higgins will have a lot of work to take care of to get his teams head back in the game for this weeks contest. Finally with the wind at their backs they managed to put two touchdowns on the scoreboard, cutting the Saskatchewan lead to 23 points with less than two minutes to go.
Those points were all important in the scheme of things, in a throw back to the day of the two point total point playoffs of the sixties, the Riders would nervously watch the scoreboard; if they could get their lead above 25 points they would secure a home field playoff date, the first one since 1988. Edmonton fighting for their playoff lives, rebounded in the fourth quarter to keep the pressure on the Riders. However Saskatchewan did not give up, with Burris leading the charge and the clock ticking down, Saskatchewan found itself within field goal range and a chance to push their point total to 26 points. The Paul McCallum kick went wide and a celebration was put on hold.
Even though the points for Saskatchewan reached 40 and they controlled the play, suddenly a huge win felt like a loss! Such are the ingredients of Canadian football. While Danny Barrett answers questions about how his team controlled the game, ran up the points and shut down the Esks he also must ponder the wisdom of a field goal attempt when a single point was all he required. A punt may have secured that elusive home field advantage, opting instead to go with the field goal Barrett has given Rider fans something to talk about until the next game in two weeks.
Now all is not lost for the Riders, they did clinch a playoff spot with today’s win. They have a chance to keep their dream of a home playoff game alive when they travel to BC on the 30th to play the Lions. Saskatchewan gets a bye this week to sit back and watch television, rooting for an unlikely team to the East. Danny Barrett’s television will be tuned to the Esks and Bombers and he’ll be waving Blue and Gold through that one!
The Eskimos fate is not assured yet, they still must defeat Winnipeg next week to have a shot at the playoffs themselves. So the Riders should still allow themselves a little bit of room for a celebration, their play in the last five weeks has turned around a rough start to the season. If a team is to be feared heading into the playoffs, one wouldn’t have to look no further than Taylor Field.
They may still yet give their fans the chance to pull out the parkas one more time this year, for the sake of one point they could have guaranteed it on a typical Canadian football Sunday!