The real road to the Grey Cup begins now for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
They play their first playoff game on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium against the B.C. Lions in the quarterfinals.
Albeit the game had no effect on the standings and the Riders didn’t dress all of their starters, the Green and White ended their regular-season action with a 30-26 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday in the Queen City.
Riders head coach Corey Chamblin expressed after the game that he had a tough time revving up his team for their battle against the Eskimos.
“We did some good things so don’t get me wrong, but it’s real hard to keep the guys hungry when you know what you have next week,” Chamblin told Mitchell Blair of CKRM. “I hated using the word meaningless this week because it wasn’t and a lot of guys did accomplish some good things, but it was hard getting guys to go all out this week knowing they have a bigger game that means a whole lot next week.”
Ultimately, a James Miles 79-yard punt return for the Eskimos off Ricky Schmitt’s leg led to Edmonton edging Saskatchewan on the scoreboard.
Starting quarterback Darian Durant didn’t dress against the Eskimos. Chamblin split time between Drew Willy, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 157 yards, and Tino Sunseri, who nailed 14 of 18 passes for 167 yards, behind centre.
In his first ever regular-season CFL game, 24-year-old Sunseri impressed Chamblin.
“Seeing Tino grow throughout the season during practice and then looking at him in the heat of the moment was great.” Chamblin said. “I thought he looked poised out there and he gained a lot of experience that will help him in the future. I thought he performed very well.”
With Kory Sheets also sitting out the game, former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Garrett got a chance to prove himself. He essentially exceeded expectations with 152 yards and one touchdown on 23 rushes.
Up against the Lions in the playoffs, the Riders will need three things to go right to notch the victory. First and foremost, Saskatchewan’s defence has to do what they’ve done all year long – be the Riders’ strength. They need to put pressure on the Lions quarterback, either Travis Lulay or Thomas DeMarco, and create some turnovers. Secondly, the offense has to lean on Sheets and he needs to come up big with a 100-plus yard performance. And lastly, Durant has to be at least average. He needs to complete more than 60-per cent of his passes and come up with a minimum three drives that lead to touchdowns.
The Riders finished the season in second place in the Western Division with an 11-7-0 record. They edged the Lions in their regular-season battles by winning two of the three tilts.
The winner of the Roughriders-Lions series will go onto play the Calgary Stampeders the following week in the Western Division final at McMahon Stadium.