RIDERS CLOSER TO GREY CUP

Play­ers ready for Argos in East fi­nal

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - MUR­RAY MCCORMICK mm­c­cormick@post­media.com twit­ter.com/mur­raylp

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 Roughrid­ers-Argos 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.’’

JUSTIN TANG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Roughrid­ers’ Jovon John­son makes an in­ter­cep­tion in front of Ot­tawa Red­blacks re­ceiver Juron Crider on Sun­day. The Roughrid­ers de­feated the Red­blacks 31-20 and will face the Arg­onauts on Sun­day in Toronto for the East Di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship.

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