Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - ROB VANSTONE rvan­stone@post­ twit­­van­stone

The lat­est Leader-Post-Mortem is more ap­pli­ca­ble, the­mat­i­cally, to the Ot­tawa Red­blacks.

The Red­blacks’ sea­son is over as a re­sult of Sun­day’s 31-20 loss to the vis­it­ing Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers in the CFL’s East Divi­sion semi­fi­nal.

Saskatchewan, which took the cross­over route to the play­offs af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth in the West, pro­ceeds to the East fi­nal against the host Toronto Arg­onauts.

Mem­bers of the Red­blacks are left to won­der what went wrong with an Ot­tawa-based Grey Cup game ap­proach­ing.

There were some ob­vi­ous break­downs by the Red­blacks, such as a 75-yard touch­down run by mer­cu­rial Mar­cus Thig­pen. More than half of the Red­blacks’ de­fen­sive play­ers tried to catch him, and all failed.

But some of the dif­fer­ence­mak­ing mo­ments in Sun­day’s game did not ap­pear on the high­light reels.

Con­sider what had tran­spired just be­fore Thig­pen’s spec­tac­u­lar sprint. The Roughrid­ers’ Chris­tion Jones had fum­bled on a punt re­turn — on his team’s 19-yard line.

Just like that, Ot­tawa was in the red zone, with a gift-wrapped scor­ing op­por­tu­nity.

Trail­ing 21-8 early in the third quar­ter, the Red­blacks had a chance to quickly make it a onepos­ses­sion game and en­liven a sell­out crowd.

On first down, Ot­tawa quar­ter­back Trevor Harris threw a quick pass to Juron Criner, who was tackled by Kacy Rodgers II af­ter a five-yard gain. On sec­ond down, a short flip to tail­back Wil­liam Pow­ell fell in­com­plete. The Red­blacks set­tled for a 22-yard field goal by Brett Ma­her.

Thig­pen scored on the very next play. Ka-boom!

That was one dis­play of ex­cel­lent tim­ing by the Roughrid­ers, who sur­ren­dered 457 pass­ing yards but re­li­ably re­pelled the aerial at­tack at cru­cial junc­tures.

Most mem­o­rably, Ot­tawa marched to Saskatchewan’s 10-yard line be­fore Harris was in­ter­cepted by linebacker Samuel Eguavoen. The pick cost Ot­tawa at least three points.

In the fourth quar­ter, Ot­tawa ad­vanced to the Roughrid­ers’ 22 be­fore gam­bling on third-and-five. Harris then found Dion­tae Spencer ... for four yards. Turnover on downs.

Ear­lier, Spencer had ma­noeu­vred his way be­hind Rodgers for com­ple­tions of 56 and 33 yards, with the longer gain pro­duc­ing a touch­down. How­ever, it was Rodgers who cru­cially tackled Spencer one yard shy of a first down with 4:10 left in the game.

Ul­ti­mately, Rodgers more than coun­ter­acted the two ex­plo­sive plays by lim­it­ing Criner to five yards and Spencer to four.

The failed gam­ble was a ques­tion­able tac­ti­cal move by Red­blacks head coach Rick Camp­bell, whose team trailed 31-14 at the time. Ot­tawa re­quired two con­verted touch­downs and a field goal to tie. Why not take the field goal at that point and make it a two-possession game?

Ot­tawa, re­mem­ber, did score a sub­se­quent touch­down when Harris hit Criner from five yards away with 1:47 re­main­ing.

Plus, the Red­blacks did get as far as the Roughrid­ers’ 22-yard line in the fi­nal sec­onds. That proved to be garbage time be­cause Ot­tawa was trail­ing by 11. Now, if Camp­bell had opted for the field goal ...

One more “what if ...?” mo­ment: Early in the sec­ond quar­ter, Harris looked deep for the East’s premier re­ceiver, Greg Elling­son. The pass was on­tar­get and Elling­son was open at the Roughrid­ers’ 10-yard line. Sur­pris­ingly, the usu­ally sure­handed Elling­son did not make the catch. (Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, Elling­son suf­fered a knee in­jury on the play.)

On sec­ond down, Harris threw a short pass to Criner, who was felled by Jovon John­son for a five-yard gain. Punt.

The tackle by John­son was in­dica­tive of the man­ner in which the Roughrid­ers per­formed on Sun­day.

Whether it was Rodgers haul­ing down Criner or Spencer, or John­son stop­ping Criner, the Roughrid­ers’ tack­ling was vir­tu­ally flaw­less.

Nu­mer­ous times, Harris looked to re­ceivers on un­der­neath routes and, with few ex­cep­tions, the ball-car­rier would be wrapped up for a short, in­suf­fi­cient gain.

Even­tu­ally, the Roughrid­ers were able to put the wraps on the game as a whole.


There are strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween last Sun­day’s game and the 2006 West Divi­sion semi­fi­nal.

For starters, the scores are vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal. Saskatchewan won 31-20 on Sun­day and 30-21 on Nov. 5, 2006, when the host Calgary Stam­ped­ers were the los­ing team.

Un­til this past week­end, Saskatchewan had not won a firstround play­off game on the road since dis­pos­ing of the Stam­ped­ers 11 years ago.

In both games, the Roughrid­ers erupted for a long touch­down run on their first of­fen­sive play of the sec­ond half.

Ken­ton Keith took off on a 76-yarder af­ter Do­minique Dorsey’s 22-yard kick­off re­turn in the 2006 game. On Sun­day, Thig­pen crossed the goal-line at 3:13 of the third quar­ter.

Thig­pen pro­duced Saskatchewan’s first one-play, 75-yard scor­ing drive in the post-sea­son since Nov. 26, 1989, when Kent Austin found Jeff Fairholm on a scor­ing bomb in the 77th Grey Cup game.


Thig­pen’s rush­ing to­tal of 169 yards on Sun­day was the fourth­high­est by a Roughrider in a post-sea­son game.

Ge­orge Reed (who else?) set the stan­dard of 204 yards in 1967.

Next on the list is Kory Sheets, who rushed for a Grey Cupre­cord 197 yards in 2013. Sheets topped his out­burst of 177 yards, reg­is­tered in the West fi­nal one week ear­lier. Thig­pen’s 169-yarder is next.

(Thank you to Roughrid­ers di­rec­tor of me­dia re­la­tions and foot­ball com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ryan Pol­lock for pro­vid­ing the list of play­off sin­gle-game rush­ing lead­ers.)


The afore­men­tioned 1967 game re­quires elab­o­ra­tion.

Reed recorded the 204-yarder in Game 3 of the best-of-three West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal, in which Saskatchewan de­feated Calgary 17-13.

No. 34 ex­ceeded the 200-yard mark while en­dur­ing con­sid­er­able pain.

“I looked like a mummy,’’ Reed re­called in an in­ter­view for West Rid­ers Best, my shame­lessly plugged book on the 1966 Grey Cup cham­pi­ons.

“If you had walked into the dress­ing room, you would have seen both shoul­ders taped and my ribs taped. From my knees all the way down to my ankles was com­pletely taped.’’

The tale of the tape in­cluded 37 car­ries by Reed — an en­dur­ing CFL play­off record.

“Ge­orge has never, ever run any bet­ter,’’ Roughrid­ers head coach Ea­gle Keys said on the first an­niver­sary of the team’s 1966 Grey Cup vic­tory, which is thor­oughly doc­u­mented in West Rid­ers B... er, sorry.


One of the Roughrid­ers’ most im­por­tant pos­ses­sions on Sun­day did not gen­er­ate a point.

Af­ter John­son in­ter­cepted Harris on the Roughrid­ers’ 29-yard line at 1:34 of the fourth quar­ter, the Roughrid­ers de­voured 4:48 of valu­able time by mov­ing 38 yards in nine plays, the last of which was a Josh Bar­tel punt that went out of bounds at Ot­tawa’s 11-yard line.

There had been a very real pos­si­bil­ity of a two-and-out af­ter Thig­pen was trapped for a loss of four on the open­ing play of the possession. But then Kevin Glenn made a bril­liant throw on sec­ond-and-14, find­ing Chad Owens in traf­fic over the mid­dle for a 16-yard gain.

Saskatchewan churned out two more first downs, both on the ground, be­fore Glenn threw back-to-back in­com­ple­tions and Bar­tel punted. By that point, Saskatchewan had chewed up nearly one-third of the fourth quar­ter.

Com­pa­ra­bly, the Roughrid­ers con­sumed 4:41 of the third quar­ter with­out scor­ing. The key play was a chain-mov­ing sneak by short-yardage quar­ter­back Ver­non Adams Jr. on third-an­done-and-a-bit.

Adams barely gained the nec­es­sary yardage. If not for an inch or three, Ot­tawa would have had a first down on the Roughrid­ers’ 45-yard line. In­stead, Saskatchewan ran three more plays be­fore a Bar­tel punt and a six-yard re­turn by Spencer left Ot­tawa on its 14-yard line. A two-and-out en­sued.


Glenn was the first Roughrid­ers quar­ter­back to face Ot­tawa in a play­off game since Ron Lan­caster, who was be­hind cen­tre for Saskatchewan in the 1976 Grey Cup.

Glenn is 38 years old, as was Lan­caster in the 1976 play­offs.

Now that the Roughrid­ers have dis­posed of Ot­tawa, they are pre­par­ing to face a Toronto team that is quar­ter­backed by Ricky Ray. Ray is, of course, 38. There’s more. On Sun­day, the Roughrid­ers notched their first post-sea­son vic­tory since the 2013 Grey Cup. One of Saskatchewan’s top play­ers in that game was slot­back Geroy Si­mon, who caught two touch­down passes — at 38.


Sure tack­ling by play­ers such as Ed Gainey, left, and Kacy Rodgers II, right, helped the Roughrid­ers de­feat the Ot­tawa Red­blacks on Sun­day.

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