July 20th, 2024

Inside the CFL: Riders perfect early despite concerning penalty totals

By MEDICINE HAT NEWS on June 20, 2024.

sports@medicinehatnews.com@MedicineHatNews

On Sunday, the Road Warrior Roughriders play their home opener, the second of back-to-back games against Hamilton.

Displaying a never-say-die attitude and an ability to overcome adversity, they are a perfect 2-0, defeating the Elks in Edmonton 29-21 and the Ti-Cats in Steeltown, 33-30. It’s true that in both cases, they were aided by their opponents’ untimely errors in the fourth quarter. It is also true in years past they likely would not have taken advantage of those opportunities.

Two games do not a season make but for now they sit atop the Western Conference while their arch rival, a winless Winnipeg, languishes in the cellar.

Saskatchewan quarterback Trevor Harris is off to a great start.

Against the Elks, he was good on 22 of 31 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted twice.

Last Sunday, he went 32-for-45 for 390 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers. At Commonwealth he spread the ball around to five receivers, the most productive of whom was former Stampeder Shawn Bane Jr., who caught five for 125 yards and three touchdowns. Next up was Canadian Kian Schaeffer-Baker with four grabs, 52 yards.

Spoiling the Ti-Cats’ 25th anniversary celebration of their 1999 Grey Cup victory over Calgary, Harris was even better with 32 completions in 45 attempts for 390 yards, two majors, no interceptions.

While the offence got off to slow starts in both games, the veteran quarterback was at his best when the chips were down.

With 2:11 left in the final frame, trailing by seven, the defence forced Hamilton to punt. Harris then led an 88-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 30. On the Ti-Cats’ subsequent possession, receiver Tim White let Bo’s pass bounce off his hands into the arms of C.J. Avery.

Brett Lauther then kicked the winning field goal.

A key moment for the Comeback Kids came in the third quarter when Anthony Lanier II forced a fumble by hitting James Butler. It should have been first down Riders at the enemy 35. C. J. Lewis had recovered the ball but his helmet came off seconds before. He was called for illegal participation, Hamilton got the ball back, after which Mitchell engineered a two-pass, 65-yard TD drive.

The Riders could have folded after such an unlucky turn of events. Instead they replied with a field goal. Said Coach Corey Mace, “In an adverse situation on the road yet again, we found a way to win.”

As in Edmonton, Harris spread the ball around, finding six receivers, including Kian Schaeffer-Baker who caught seven passes for 109 yards and rookie Jerreth Sterns, 6/112. He also found Bane Jr. Emilus, Ajou Ajou and A. J. Ouellette for a total of 18 completions and 163 yards. This a very young receiving corps, which bodes well for the future.

A key off-season acquisition was A. J. Ouelette who was fourth in rushing last year with 1,009 yards as an Argo. So far this season he has only 29 carries for 72 yards. He’ll get more action when his team is playing with the lead.

All is not sweetness and light on Elphinstone Street. “We have a penalty problem,” said Mace.

Indeed they do.

Against Edmonton, they had six infractions for 84 yards, not that bad.

However, when the CFL announced its player discipline fines, four of six were Roughriders, including offensive linemen Trevor Reid and Logan Ferland for head butting. Ferland was ejected.

A week later, the totals were worse, with 11 penalties for 115 yards. Penalties are more common in the early part of the season because American rookies are adjusting to the rules.

A major criticism of last year’s head coach Craig Dickenson was that he was too soft when it came to correcting errant behaviour. Mace can’t be seen making the same mistake. There is no excuse for selfish misconduct and dead ball calls. The Roughies lead the league in penalties by a substantial margin.

Rider special teams are stellar. Kicker Brett Lauther is perfect on four field goals and seven converts. He is first in kickoffs. Punter Adam Korsak ranks second and Mario Alford is an always dangerous return man.

A weakness the last two seasons, the O-line is a strength. Although losing right guard Philip Blake hurts, former Stamp Ryan Sceviour provides depth.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 52 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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