It was all Henry Burris could dream of a return to the playoffs in the CFL as he led his Saskatchewan Roughriders across the frozen plain of Commonwealth Stadium; Burris threw for two touchdowns as the Green Giants claimed the right to challenge BC for the Western Division title next Sunday.
In a low scoring affair that seemed to take a long time to get untracked, the Riders put fourteen points on the board, more than enough to move on in the CFL West and continue their quest for a berth in the Grey Cup in two weeks.
Close to 37,500 fans sat in the snow and wind of Commonwealth watching two team’s batter each other to the frozen turf time and time again. A defensive battle for most of the first half, the momentum first began to shift after a questionable play by the Esks in the waning minutes of the second quarter. Edmonton’s kicker Sean Fleming faked a third down punt and tossed a ball just out of the reach of Mike Bradley. The turnover on downs was turned around into a touchdown strike and seven points that the Eskies never got back, going on to lose 14-6 to the lads from Regina.
Tom Higgins took the heat for the controversial call and uttered some famous words that will probably become his epitaph in Green and Gold “when it works its great, when it doesn’t work it falls on my shoulders”. A high risk move like that early in the game ended up costing his team a trip to Vancouver, Eskimo fans will be lighting up the open line shows for weeks with comments on that move. He may also find a bit of heated discussion on a late game decision to punt rather than attempt a field goal to take the lead, though to be fair the swirling wind was playing havoc with the kicking game all day long, so perhaps that was a wise if disrespected call. Regardless with the loss will come change in the land of Green and Gold as loyal Eskimo fans won't sit still to a near miss of the playoffs and then an early exit from them.
The game resumed its struggle in the second half, the Eskimos amassing huge amounts of yardage, mostly in the sure hands of Ed Hervey, yet never found the way to the endzone to capitalize on their ball control and field position. The Eskies completed 33 of 38 passes for 351 yards yet never could break over the goal line; all of their scoring came off the foot of Sean Fleming. The Eskies ran up close to 400 yards of total offence and only could come up with 6 points.
Saskatchewan used Kenton Keith in the run and in the pass to move the ball down the field, Keith scoring the second touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter with reception in which he just barely got his feet down in the endzone, but perhaps justice as he was denied an explosive touchdown run just minutes before in a questionable out of bounds call by the officials. Keith controlled the running game as he carried seventeen times for 97 yards, crashing through the Eskimo line at will in the late stages of the game.
The Riders defence palyed huge, keeping Jason Maas on his toes with frequent incursions in the Eskimo backfield, resulting in 49 yards in losses through the afternoon. David Benefield had a particularly impressive day at the office in Rider Green.
Having knocked off the Defending Grey Cup champs the Riders now prepare for a return engagement in Vancouver to take on the first place Lions at BC Place. Last week the Riders lost a chance to host the Western semi final with a last minute loss to the Lions, expect that to be among some of the motivation for the Riders as they prepare for the Western final.
At the start of the season many CFL observers had the Green Giants pegged to represent the West in Ottawa at the Grey Cup. A Few stumbles during the regular season quieted that kind of talk, but the last six weeks of Rider football have the homefolk thinking big again. One hurdle has been jumped and now another is quickly approaching as Danny Barrett prepares to lead his team to BC. Saskatchewan should give the Lions all that they can handle in the Western Final; setting up what should be a most entertaining battle to represent the West in the Grey Cup in two weeks.