Monday, November 20, 2017
OUT OF THE TUNNEL: WHY THE RIDERS LOST THE EASTERN FINAL
Rider Nation is licking its wounds today, but in a couple of days, we will all look back and reflect on a 2017 that was a season of tremendous progress and many lessons learned that will help the Riders track back to the top of the CFL beginning next year.
But right now, we will head Out of the Tunnel looking back on what could have been in Sunday's 25-21 East Division Final loss in Toronto.
Other than fans' complaints about the refereeing (the questionable review of the hit to the head of Kevin Glenn being number one on the list), many will be talking about the rotation of quarterbacks through the whole game.
Head coach Chris Jones has been incredibly astute in the second half of the season on when to switch quarterbacks, but on Sunday it went sideways.
Kevin Glenn started the game and the first drive of the second quarter, then Brandon Bridge came in for two series without much success.
Glenn went back in and that’s when the game unravelled. He was intercepted on back-to-back series (by Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Cassius Vaughn) which ended up in ten Argo points and that was the end of Glenn's afternoon.
Other than his one touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Bridge wasn’t great either, completing just a hair over 50% of his passes. On the other side of the football, Ricky Ray was steady and when he needed to be great on the final drive of the game, he was. Game over.
Huge kudos to Corey Chamblin and his game plan for the Rider offence. He blitzed the heck out of the Riders and made life miserable for Glenn and confused the heck out of Bridge. It had to be an incredibly satisfying day for the former Riders head coach (as well as Shawn Lemon who had three sacks and five tackles) as he marks his first return to the Grey Cup since leading the Riders to their 2013 victory.
The key to Rider victories all season was relying on the big play. They had a few on defence courtesy of Willie Jefferson and on special teams with Christion Jones’ late punt return touchdown, but it just wasn’t enough.
Another frustration was when the game was on the line and they needed to just bend but not break, the defence couldn’t stiffen up and stop the Argos offence on the final drive.
A couple of other notes from an armchair quarterback:
- Whether it was/wasn’t roughing the passer, to rely on the officiating or the replay booth to make a call on an interception for a touchdown isn’t a great way to look at it. You can never rely on officiating to help a team out. Even if Victor Butler never touched Glenn, it was going back the other way for the score.
- The Rider running game was having some success, and in such a tight game, Marcus Thigpen and Kienan LaFrance should have seen the ball more. Sure they were nailed in the backfield a couple of times, but even still, they averaged over five yards per carry. When in doubt, pound the rock.
- Kevin Glenn’s three interceptions were the most he has thrown in a playoff game.
- Duron Carter wasn’t just great between the lines (6/99 and a touchdown), he was great all week (who else would offer to take fans to a movie?) When his gregarious personality is positive and in control, he is a huge positive for the Riders and for the CFL.
It’s going to be a long six months waiting for the Green and White to return to the field for Training Camp 2018 in Saskatoon, but with all the positives that happened this season, it will be nice talking about filling a few holes instead of a complete overhaul.
The West Division Final looked like it was going to be all Edmonton when they took a 14-0 first quarter lead, but after a month of sleepwalking, the Calgary Stampeders finally woke up.
They stormed back to tie the game, then "Roy Finch happened" at the end of the first half. His two plays that covered 65 yards - including a 50-yard run on the final play of the half - put the Stampeders up seven at the break and was the turning point of the football game.
Calgary added another score midway through the third (to cap a 30-1 scoring run) and they appeared to be cruising to a Grey Cup berth. Then the Eskies showed the same moxie that helped turn their season around.
They chiseled away at the Stampeder lead, cutting it to 31-25. After a Rob Maver single made it a seven-point lead, the weirdness began.
With 1:54 left in the fourth quarter, it was 3rd and four at the Calgary 13-yard line when Eskimo head coach Jason Maas, for some reason, decided to kick a short field goal to cut the lead to four points …meaning they would still need a touchdown to win.
It was their best and final chance to tie (or possibly win) the game. Calgary killed most of the clock and then forced a Jamill Smith fumble on a late punt return to seal it. This is something Eskimo (and CFL) fans will be talking about all offseason.
So, the Grey Cup will see the Toronto Argonauts host the Calgary Stampeders at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa (side note: Out Of The Tunnel made the prediction of an Edmonton-Saskatchewan Grey Cup … reminder never listen to the media when placing bets). Ottawa will be a fantastic host city, it will still be a great party and an interesting match-up, but the question will be…how many across the country will be watching this game? Many Rider fans will, because they are fans of the game, but will the casual fan tune into the 105th version of the Classic?
Canada West Diary:
The Vanier Cup is set with the Laval Rouge et Or returning to the USports football championship game for the fifth time in eight years courtesy of their 35-23 victory over the Calgary Dinos.
Calgary had the 17-10 lead at halftime before Laval went on a 25-6 second half tear to take the Mitchell Bowl at McMahon Stadium.
Laval winning wasn’t the big story, the Uteck Bowl took all the headlines, but not for the right reasons. The Western Mustangs embarrassed the Acadia Axemen 81-3 to book their ticket to Hamilton.
It wasn’t just embarrassing for Acadia, but for all USports. After a complete debacle in the handling of the Archelaus Jack situation with the St. Mary’s Huskies (more here) which saw the AUS final being played on Tuesday. It set up Acadia for complete failure in the Uteck Bowl.
Canada West and RSEQ can’t always wave the flag for Canadian college football. If you want to keep the best football players in Canada, stuff like this must change. If not, the trickle of players to American prep schools and NCAA schools at all levels will turn into a stream and it will be hard to claw that back.
Speaking of which….
Canadian to Watch in the NCAA
Nathaniel (Nate) Anderson - DE
Hometown – Toronto, Ont.
Class – Jr.
Anderson is in his first season with the Missouri Tigers after playing two seasons of junior college football with New Mexico Military Institute. In 2017, Anderson has a sack, two tackles for loss and 11 total tackles.
Before heading to NMMI the Toronto native finished his high school career with Prattville High School in Alabama.