RIDERS CLOSER TO GREY CUP
Players ready for Argos in East final
OTTAWA The Saskatchewan Roughriders are hoping to execute a different kind of reverse.
They aspire to reverse tradition by becoming the first West Division team to win an East Division title since the CFL’s crossover playoff format was adopted in 1996.
Saskatchewan, which finished fourth in the West and crossed over into the East for the 2017 playoffs, moved to one step away from a Grey Cup berth Sunday by defeating the Ottawa Redblacks 31-20 in the East semifinal.
Next stop: Toronto, where Saskatchewan will oppose the Argonauts on Sunday.
“Just to be able to get into the East final is major,” Riders cornerback Jovon Johnson said. “We know that we have one game to win to get to the Grey Cup, which is the ultimate goal and has been the goal for every guy in the locker-room. We’re going to be focused and determined to get that done.’’
The Riders are the ninth team to access the playoffs via the crossover. Only three have proceeded to a division final.
The winner of the RoughridersArgos showdown will meet the West champion — the Calgary Stampeders or Edmonton Eskimos — in the Grey Cup game on Nov. 26 in Ottawa.
This season, the Roughriders swept their two-game series with the Argonauts, winning 38-27 at Mosaic Stadium on July 29 and downing the Argos 27-24 at BMO Field on Oct. 7.
“They are a good team and, if anything, they are probably a different team from the last time that we played them,” Roughriders middle linebacker Henoc Muamba said.
“They have improved tremendously. They have a great head coach (Marc Trestman), who we all have a lot of respect for. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ricky Ray. They also have (running back) James Wilder, who is pretty good back there, too. Still, I like our odds and our chances against any team in the CFL right now.’’
The Roughriders are hoping to improve their chances by adhering to a well-established formula for success.
They are staying in Ontario between games against East opponents, as they did during the 2016 and 2017 regular seasons. Saskatchewan has swept the twogame set in both years.
“We’ve already had a dress rehearsal so we know what to expect,’’ Muamba said.
“We know how to handle being away, because it’s the exact same thing as before. Hopefully we can come away with the win like we did last time.’’
They very well could if they perform as they did Sunday against the Redblacks, who could not counter Saskatchewan’s all-around game.
Marcus Thigpen led the Riders’ ground attack with 15 carries for 169 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run.
Kevin Glenn completed 18 of 28 passes for 252 yards while throwing a touchdown pass — a 29-yarder to Bakari Grant — and running for another major. Those majors came on the Roughriders’ first two possessions. Grant had three receptions for a team-high 85 yards.
Defensively, the Riders forced four Redblacks turnovers. Johnson and Samuel Eguavoen had interceptions, Mike Edem recovered a fumble, and the Redblacks turned over the ball over on downs.
Ottawa’s Trevor Harris attempted 60 passes — a record for a CFL playoff game — and completed 37, piling up 457 yards. However, the Roughriders held Harris in check at several crucial junctures.
“It wasn’t an overly clean game, but we did a lot of really good things,” Riders head coach and general manager Chris Jones said. “Anytime you can go on the road for a playoff game against a very solid opponent … that group over there won the Grey Cup last year.
“It’s a good group with a good organization and good coaches. To be able to come into their house and beat them like we did is a good, solid win.’’
The Riders haven’t reached the Grey Cup game since 2013, when they beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 at Mosaic Stadium.
“What we’ve done so far is a blessing and at the same time we know that it’s only one step,’’ Glenn said. “We knew coming into this one that we were fighting for three games. We knew we had to take care of the first one and we did.’’
To be able to come into their house and beat them like we did is a good, solid win.
The Roughriders’ Jovon Johnson makes an interception in front of Ottawa Redblacks receiver Juron Crider on Sunday. The Roughriders won 31-20.