Roughriders’ next 4 games to tell the tale of the season

A 5-4 record at the halfway point of the season. The Saskatchewan Roughriders would have taken that in most years of their storied history.

But in 2022, that’s on pace to be on the outside looking in come playoff time in the west. Not good timing considering the Grey Cup game will be played right here in Regina.

This generation of fans is spoiled. Nowadays failing to earn a playoff spot — or even a home playoff game — is unacceptable.

The number of fans who remember the team’s especially lean years is dwindling.

Back then it was 11 years without making the playoffs, until the streak was snapped in 1988. There was even a song, 11 Years, That’s Enough, featuring the vocal stylings of one Glen Suitor. Look it up.

This year the question lingers: they are above .500, but who have they beat?

The Roughriders will face the league’s hottest team, the BC Lions, twice in seven days. (The Canadian Press)

The Riders’ five wins this year have come against eastern teams or the Edmonton Elks. 

The latest, last Saturday’s 34-23 decision in Edmonton, probably drew more criticism than praise from a skeptical fan base.

How could Chris Jones’s defence rush only three players and still flush Cody Fajardo out of the pocket all night long?

Why can’t Cody Fajardo hit a receiver in stride, or at least in the general vicinity?

These were common rants on the phone-ins. 

Very little was said about the night Duke Williams had, or the kickoff return touchdown from Mario Alford.

But forget all that, now is when the CFL season gets real. The summer is winding down and Labour Day is just around the corner.

A young phenom, then the reigning champs

For the Riders, the next four games will tell the tale.

Have they ever faced a tougher stretch?

Two games against Nathan Rourke and the BC Lions. Then two games against the defending Grey Cup champs from Winnipeg.

B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke leads the CFL in all main passing categories. (The Canadian Press)

Rourke may be the most exciting young prospect to play in the CFL since, well, ever.

The league has had great quarterbacks. Doug Flutie, Damon Allen, Matt Dunigan, Anthony Calvillo, Warren Moon, the list goes on.

But they weren’t Canadians.

Rourke is from Victoria, B.C.

This season, he has been selected a weekly top performer three consecutive weeks and five times overall.

Some national reporters already see him playing in the NFL next season, so enjoy him while you can, they suggest.

The Riders sacked Nathan Rourke twice in their last encounter, but gave up more than 330 passing yards and two touchdowns. The Lions’ QB completed nearly 82 per cent of his throws. (The Canadian Press)

The former Ohio Bobcat and successor to Michael Rielly is on pace to break records. He’s passed for more than 2,900 yards, a 500-yard cushion on reigning MOP Zach Collaros.

Rourke could hit the 6,000 mark, a number surpassed only three times in CFL history.

What makes this story incredible is his age and his nationality, because we all know Canadian-born quarterbacks never get a fair shake in Canada’s game.

Rourke and the Lions will visit Mosaic Stadium again this Friday night.

You would think with his lack of experience, there would be something defences could take advantage of.

“You would think,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson joked after practice Tuesday.

“If you hear something let me know. He’s on a torrid pace. We will try and do something.”

Hopefully the Riders have a little more planned for the young Lions phenom, who they couldn’t slow down just a few weeks ago.

That night, on July 29, the Riders were spotted a 17-4 lead only to watch Rourke rally the Lions to a 32-17 win.

Once the Riders are done with Rourke this Friday, they get him again a week later in Vancouver.

Following the Lions, the Riders’ schedule has Blue Bombers in the Labour Day Classic and the Banjo Bowl.

Having just lost their first game of the season, spoiling their quest for a consecutive wins record, the Blue Bombers are bound to still be in a foul mood come Labour Day.

Their loss to Montreal might be the best thing that could have happened to them. It removed any swagger that may have crept into their locker room and reminded them there’s still some work to do to secure a third consecutive Grey Cup Championship.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, having just lost their first game of the season, will play the Roughriders three times in September. (The Canadian Press)

A season-defining stretch

Right now, November should be the furthest thing from the Riders’ minds. They have to salvage something from these next four games, or at most settle for a playoff journey through the east, where no western team has ever survived. 

If they embark on a four-game losing streak, this franchise is in trouble.

There is a positive in this otherwise doom-and-gloom story. Their long list of walking wounded are returning.

Top flight receivers Kyron Moore and Shaq Evans are close, slated to come back either this week or next.

Cody Fajardo’s mobility seems to be coming back after an injury to his left MCL. The Riders do not win if Cody Fajardo can’t run (see Darian Durant).

Centre Dan Clark is just being Dan Clark. He is someone who will get a number from doctors, then shave off two weeks.

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Garrett Marino has served his league imposed four-game suspension and is set to return to the lineup. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

Despite injury and suspension woes, the Riders are still the CFL’s runaway leaders in quarterback sacks.

The defensive line will soon be back to full strength, including the return of notorious bad boy Garrett Marino, who has served his four-game sentence for taking out Ottawa QB Jeremiah Masoli.

In Marino’s words “it was depressing.” He says is good to go this week.

The offensive line, however, has been a mess since Clark’s week two injury, which despite Stephen Sorrells’s argument is the main reason the Riders also lead the league in sacks against.

The Riders’ offensive line coach says “protection is a 12-person thing.”

“The offensive line has to be perfect for 65 snaps. If an offensive lineman has one play that’s off, it’s catastrophic and everybody sees that,” said Sorrells.

“They’re taking a lot of criticisms they’re not really responsible for.”

But this week they made right tackle Na’Ty Rodgers accountable, cutting the first-year Rider after he got two more holding flags and a misconduct in the Edmonton game.

Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo has been sacked 30 times this season in just eight games played. (The Canadian Press)

Teams always use the mantra of one game at a time, but these next four should have Riders fans nervous.

Four games against the two best teams.

Good for TSN producers who would like to see the Saskatchewan Roughriders never get a week off.

Exciting for CFL fans in what has been one of the most fascinating seasons for the CFL in quite some time.

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