REGINA -- If you can, for just a second, forget about the fact it was a loss.
For the uninitiated, I'm referring to the Saskatchewan Roughriders' 39-36 thriller-of-an overtime loss at Edmonton Friday night against the Eskimos.
It's a game that in the aftermath in the City of Champions, they were referring to as a "heart-stopper". And here in Saskatchewan, we're referring to the game as a "heart-stopper" as well, several days after the fact.
Going into the contest, not many were giving the upstart Roughriders a chance against the defending Grey Cup champions. In fact the oddsmakers had the Eskimos installed as favourites by as many as 11 points.
However in a flip-the-script scenario from the Roughriders' season-opening 30-17 home loss to Toronto in which they were down 14-0 just six minutes into the game, on Friday night the Green and White remarkably jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter over the stunned Eskimos. But no one was resting easy and the Riders' 19-14 halftime lead was tenuous at best.
You people all know what happened in the second half because you watched the game. The Riders imploded in the third quarter and for much of the fourth, and were trailing 33-19 with under ten minutes to go. That's when many in the Wheat Province switched off their television sets, so they tell me.
Boy did they miss a doozy of a finish! In the final six minutes the Riders struck for touchdowns by John Chiles and Shamawd Chamblers and, along with a long Tyler Crapigna field goal, amazingly led 36-33 with just 19 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately right after that is when they lost the game, not in overtime like so many are lamenting around here.
Expecting the Eskimos to launch a couple of Hail Mary's in the dying seconds Friday night, the Riders dropped nine players into a Prevent Defense on a fateful pair of plays. Star Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly then gained just enough yards on those back-to-back plays to put kicker Sean Whyte into position for a 51-yard field goal to tie the game 36-36 with no time left.
It feels redundant to recap what happened in overtime, but suffice it to say Whyte stroked a 32-yard field goal on the Esks' first possession while the Riders turned it over on downs on theirs on a failed Darian Durant sneak and it was game over. Fireworks were shooting off everywhere and it was bedlam at Commonwealth Stadium before a CFL season-high crowd of 34,196.
While Rider fans are justifiably groaning about the team's penchant for failing miserably in short yardage situations early on this season, the game was lost in the moments before that QB sneak in overtime.
Head Coach and Chris Jones admitted as much on the CKRM postgame show and it took a big man to do so.
"At the end of the game they only had 13 seconds left," Jones winced. "We were just a little bit too passive in coverage there and allowed 'em to to get too much yardage to allow them to kick the field goal. If I had it to do over, we wouldn't be in that situation."
Watching the tape of the game on Saturday, I noticed TSN's Chris Cuthbert referred to the Eskimos' final drive as "awfully easy".
To me, those final few moments felt like a mini-2009 Grey Cup and the 13th Man incident. The Riders had this victory in the bag but got pick-pocketed, and were left wondering "What the hell happened?"
All the same emotions were there Friday night from that famed November afternoon and the Grey Cup game in Calgary seven seasons ago. Our hearts were beating a million miles a minute, our hands were sweaty and we were on the edge of our seats in the dying moments.
Exciting, blood-pumping football is back!
After a two year absence.
Upon our return to the Queen City, Rider fans were gushing about Friday's game all weekend long.
"I don't care if we win," one long-time Rider fan mentioned Saturday afternoon. "I just want the Riders to entertain me!"
"LIAR!" I exclaimed, with a smirk on my face. Of course everybody around here wants the Roughriders to win every game and if it's a doozy of a contest, well, that's just a bonus.
So in the end, Friday's game was another loss. And the crappy reality for the Roughriders is that they're the CFL's only winless team at 0-2. But that really doesn't seem to matter right now because the Rider Nation got a glimpse of what's in store for the weeks and maybe even seasons ahead. Gutsy, determined, aggressive football with a head coach who employs the Don Mathews strategy of Living On The Edge. They're gonna go for it and not be timid, and that likely includes on defense too given the way they let the Eskimos wiggle off the hook Friday night.
And now Saskatchewan and the entire Rider Nation is turned onto this team with a home date looming this Saturday against Wally Buono's 2-1 B.C. Lions Saturday afternoon at 5:00 at Mosaic Stadium.
There are only eight home games left in the Grand Ol' Lady folks, and as part of the Farewell Season hoopla the 1966 Grey Cup champion Roughriders will be honoured at Saturday's game.
We haven't had a sellout yet this season but I'll bet you right now the park will be packed for Saturday's showdown.
Roughrider Football - the kind we like - is back.
MORE MONDAY TAKES
1 - CARTERI'S CORNER: Longtime Rider Radio analyst Carm Carteri doesn't agree with me about the mini-Grey Cup comment, which is nothing new. But he was equally as stunned at how the Riders lost Friday night.
"I don't know if they got their pocket picked, but they just let them off the hook!" Carteri said on CKRM's postgame show. "I'm here looking at a 36-33 win for the Roughriders. I already had it written down! What did they do? With 19 seconds to go they played a soft defense and allowed the field goal to tie the game. I'm virturally stunned here.
"This is a game the Riders had. They fought their way back, looked good in the first half, but then they allowed Reilly and Adarius Bowman to get it together with three touchdown passes in the second half. But you're gonna look at short yardage hurting the Riders.
"Two stops where Darian Durant and the Riders couldn't get a first down, most importantly in the overtime. They could've kicked a field goal but Chris Jones wanted to win it and now it's two games in a row where short yardage has killed this football team and those guys have got to be devastated in that locker room."
2 - JUST SAY IT!: Everybody in the media - on both sides of the Alberta/Saskatchewan border - were getting dumped on leading up to Friday's game for drudging up the Chris Jones Return story. Jones said the day before the game he was tired of talking about it and frankly I had no problem with that. He had dutifully and willfully answered all those questions during the week in Regina but by the time the team got to Edmonton, he'd had enough.
What I'm disappointed in is the Eskimos' reaction. Any of their players who were asked shrugged off all questions about Jones, saying they didn't blame him for jumping to Saskatchewan for more money and power. But then Friday night, after Adarius Bowman's third touchdown catch, Bowman and most of the Eskimos' offensive line turned to the Rider bench and went off with all kind of crazy antics in Jones' face.
And hey, that's fine too! I'm all for letting your emotions out and maybe rubbing salt in the odd wound but at least have the gumption to ADMIT IT!
Eskimos defensive end Odell Willis was asked about this blossoming rivalry at Thursday's walk-through but his reply was, "This is a rivalry game? What, we're playing Calgary?"
Come off it.
3 - MORE ON THAT: I guess you can't take too many people in this league at their word anymore. In a rather lighter story, Rider receiver Shamawd Chambers boldly predicted last week that there would be more Rider fans in Edmonton than Eskimo fans at Friday night's game. That got them howling far and wide in Northern Alberta - and likely accounted for thousands of ticket sales too - but when asked about it by the Edmonton media on Thursday, Chambers responded, "The comment was taken out of context".
I published his quote word for word!
At the team hotel I mentioned to Chambers, "It was taken out of context, huh?" He smiled, winked, and kept on walking.
But this budding rivalry is only building. Right now, I'd have to say the Eskimos are now Saskatchewan's #1 adversary.
4 - COMPETITION IS FIERCE: Leading up to Saturday's home game against B.C., the Roughriders will practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I invite you to come down to Mosaic Stadium for the workouts because they are explosive. With crowds of several hundred in attendance, Rider practices this year have become mini-games with offense going up against defense with chicken dinners on the line and ferocious competition for a 44-man roster spot. It's made the days between games anything but mundane.
"I think it's part of Coach Jones' management philosophy," explained Jeremy O'Day from the Riders' management team. "He loves to compete. He's a big-time competitor in everything that he does. When we go out to practice, he lets them get their legs back and work in the weight room on Day 1 and then on Day 2 it's a full out compete day.
"Guys are flying around and Chris charts the plays on the scoreboard. The loser has to pay up at the end of the day. You can see how competitive it is in practice. For me as a player, I was just going out and worrying about what I had to do and that week's opponent - and you're still always doing that - but with this, when you got a competition, a scoreboard and you're going against the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage, it's always a positive thing. It's also created a lot of bonding. They're growing as a team, hanging out with each other on road trips, and there's a lot of new guys that have come from all over so they need to come together to make the team stronger."
I do have to say this though -- every time the Roughriders make a roster move, whether it's signing a new player or acquiring one through a trade, my phone blows up from friends wanting to know the reasons behind it. The good thing is everyone's into this team now and watching every move but the bad thing is the moves are happening at such a furious pace that I rarely have the answers they're looking for.
The acquisition of DT Cedric McKinley on Sunday was to fill the void left by the injury to Jonathan Williams. The ever-revolving back-up quarterback carousel is simply a sign that the Riders aren't anywhere settled on their depth behind Darian Durant. QB Jake Waters got into town from Hamilton over the weekend and will be out at practice with the team this week. With Hamilton's addition of QB Everett Golson, there simply wasn't enough room for Waters in Steeltown but he comes to Regina with a solid recommendation and has been told he'll love it here. Is he the "Next One"?
5 - JUST NOTES: I picked the Eskimos to win last week simply because I didn't want to give them anymore motivation but felt dirty doing it. I thought I'd get some jabs on the road trip but the Rider players and coaches knew the score. I won't pick against The Green again. Plus I think they'll pick up their first win of the season this week. ...
- The attendance at Thursday's Argonauts-Lions game at B.C. Place was a paltry 18,921. They could've played it next door at Rogers Arena, home of the NHL's Canucks. ...
- The Blue Bombers didn't win it Thursday in Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats lost it. (On Jeremiah Massoli's last-minute fumble, Hamilton's sixth turnover of the game). Still, it was nice to see Mike O'Shea and his crew taste victory. It's fine by me if they go back to losing anytime! ...
- Grumbling about CFL officiating is being heard far and wide. All I can say is this: It's the same for every team, and no one is being favoured. However the Roughing The Passer penalty on the Riders' Graig Newman Friday night was laughable. But complaining about officiating is, to quote my Mom once again, "like pissing into the wind". ...
- The CFL gets a lot of criticism but the collection of bright young head coaches this season should be pointed out. Jason Maas, Dave Dickenson, O'Shea, and Rick Campbell are a breath of fresh air and I've been told to thrown Chris Jones and Kent Austin in that group too. Gone are the days of the unending carousel of Adam Rita, Bob O'Billovich, Don Mathews, etc. The GMs should also be commended for "taking a chance".
- Young coaches and young fans. You'd have to be blind not to notice the younger demographic of fans attending CFL games in all nine stadiums this year. Somebody mentioned that TSN cameras are going out of their way to show these young fans and even if that's true, who cares? It's one of the great legacies left behind by Mark Cohon.
- TSN's Sara Orlesky was on the SportsCage last week and said the only thing missing in the CFL this season are games going down to the final minute. That was taken care of in three out of the four games in Week 3!
- We should not overlook the stellar play of Darian Durant. He's had back-to-back 300+ yard passing games and has only been sacked once. On Friday night, he heaved four touchdown passes.
- How spectacular was it to see UFC star Brock Lesnar introduced as "FIGHTING out of Regina, Saskatchewan!" in Saturday night's UFC 200? I was watching the card with some of the Rider coaches at the Four Seasons and they were stunned. "He's FROM here?" they mused. Well, sort of.
It was cool to hear UFC announcer Mike Goldberg mention, "Lesnar's built a virtual compound in the Province of Saskatchewan".
But it was deflating to hear UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer refer to our fair city as, "Re-JEAN-ah, Saskatchewan". I thought it was the announcer's job to get these things right? :)
- On Saturday night I sent out a Tweet acknowledging the heroic efforts of the men and women in law enforcement. Within minutes I was attacked by the Twitter trolls.
What's this world coming to?
- Thank God Wimbledon and Euro 2016 are finally over. Now back to SportsCentre in the morning on TSN.
- Congratulations to Regina's Jon Ryan and comedian Sarah Colonna of Arkansas who tied the knot in Mexico over the weekend. Great people!
THAT'S ALL! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4:00 PM
THAT'S ALL! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4:00 PM