Riders lean on defence to lock up playoff spot

MONTREAL — Heading into their game, it seemed like it could have the makings of a shootout.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, in Cody Fajardo. He has William Powell at his side to run the ball and can look downfield to a number of elite pass catchers, including Shaq Evans and Duke Williams.

The Montreal Alouettes have had to deal with injuries in the last few weeks, but to this point have been able to hand off to William Stanback, who runs through everything — d-linemen, linebackers, adversity — like he’s the Kool-Aid Man. From Vernon Adams, to Matthew Shiltz and with Trevor Harris in the wings, the Als have done it in different ways, but have had little trouble scoring.

Then, Saturday night arrived in Montreal and both teams’ defences decided this fight was between them.

Beyond the two points and the benefit that came from it — Saskatchewan clinched a playoff berth with the win and the Lions’ loss earlier in the day — there’s value in games like the Riders’ 19-14 win over the Alouettes. Offences won’t pump out yardage every single week. Eventually, usually in the playoffs, the game and the onus of winning shifts to the defence.

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“I say it a lot to our guys. It’s going to take all 45 of us,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said after the game.

“We don’t know which one of us it’s going to be but when it’s our time to make a play, we’ve got to make it.

“We really challenge the guys to take care of each other and have each other’s backs. If the offence is struggling, defence? We want you to step up. When the defence is tired, offence, we need to put a drive together and keep the defence on the sideline. The kicking game, when we need to flip the field or make a big play, we need to need to get that done with the kicking game.”

In Montreal, the Riders’ defence carried them to their seventh win of the season. They had five sacks on Shiltz and Harris. Loucheiz Purifoy stepped in front of a Shiltz pass that helped set up the Riders’ lone touchdown of the day. Nick Marshall thought he had an interception in the third quarter, but it was called back on review. Stanback ran for 80 yards, but save for a 19-yard burst late in the game, he didn’t gallop the way that he has through most of this season.

When Harris got into the game at the end of the third quarter, Montreal’s offence stirred but couldn’t rally all the way back the way they have so often in the past two seasons. Jonathan Woodard got to Harris at midfield, sacking him on second down and pushing the team out of field goal range and the game out of reach.

 

“They played really well these last couple of games,” Fajardo said.

“I think defences win championships in this league. Offences just have to find a way to score more points than the other team and we did that tonight, which is why we’re in the win column.

“But honestly, I’m proud of our defence. They gave us some good field position and some chances to get some points.”

Dickenson was obviously happy that his team is the third in the league to clinch a playoff spot, but he still sees room for improvement with the group overall.

“I don’t think we’re playing as well as we’d like, but I am happy with where we’re at,” he said.

“We’re not going to catch Winnipeg and everyone knows that. We’re hoping to get a home game and get hot. I wish we were playing a little bit better specifically on offence and I honestly wish we were doing a little better on kicking. We’re just average right now with the ability to get better, but we’ve got to get better soon.

“We’re gooing to look at the film hard and keep chopping wood because we feel like we have a lot more to give. We feel like we could be a better team.”

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