With the Saskatchewan Roughriders eliminated from the CFL playoff race on Saturday, Craig Dickenson is hoping to return for his fourth season as head coach.
Dickenson and general manager Jeremy O’Day have come under fire over the last two months as the Riders have struggled immensely since starting the season 4-1. A 32-21 Saturday loss to the Calgary Stampeders dropped the Riders to 6-11 after going 2-10 in their last 12 games.
The Stampeders, who are 11-6 and playoff bound, handed the Riders their sixth straight home loss.
Dickenson was asked after the game if he had received any assurances that he and O’Day would maintain their positions for the 2023 season.
“No but we're going to keep working like we are,” said Dickenson, who has a 28-21 record as Saskatchewan’s head coach.
When asked if he wants to return, he was quick with the affirmative.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. I like it here. And I feel like we’ve got a lot of work still to do here,” said Dickenson.
Heading into the weekend, Saskatchewan held a slim chance at qualifying for the post-season. The Riders were tied with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the third and final playoff spot in the East Division. Any combination of Tiger-Cats wins and Riders losses totalling two in the final two weeks of the season would eliminate Saskatchewan.
Hamilton defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 30-27 on Friday and Saturday’s defeat to the Stampeders sealed the Riders’ fate. Although it’s possible for the Ticats and Riders to end the season with identical records, the crossover team has to have a better record than the third-place team in the other division and the best the Riders can do now is match the Ticats’ record.
The Riders had high expectations from their fans about reaching the Grey Cup which will be played in Regina on Nov. 20. The last time the Riders missed the playoffs was in 2016.
Calgary controlled the game with an impressive rushing attack, totalling 212 yards on 37 carries. Dedrick Mills led the way with 103 yards on 17 carries while Ka’Deem Carey added 75 yards on 11 carries.
The Riders have dealt with a number of issues throughout the season — injuries, disciplinary problems, and a COVID outbreak, to name a few. The toughest issue, however, was the ineffectiveness of the offensive and defensive lines.
Calgary’s success on the ground emphasized that point, as did their five sacks. The Riders have now allowed 71 sacks this season.
“I think the reason we're struggling this year is up front on both sides. Jeremy (O’Day) and I have tried to correct that. … Often the accolades in football go to the guys running 40s and jumping high but ultimately games are won and lost in the trenches. Tonight, I think Calgary dominated us on both sides of the ball, and that's why they won the game,” said Dickenson.
In an attempt to spark his team, Dickenson benched veteran quarterback Cody Fajardo in favour of second-year player Mason Fine who made his first CFL start on Saturday.
Fine, who finished 18 of 28 passing for 196 yards with one touchdown, felt the 6-11 record was impacted by the issues the team dealt with this season.
"My high school coach had a saying: 'If football was fair, the ball would be round because they'd know where it bounces, but in football, it bounces a lot of different ways.' It just didn't quite happen our way this season," said Fine.
Receiver Shaq Evans agreed the Riders couldn't come up with big plays at the right time.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half, combining for six field goals, four from Calgary's Rene Parades and two from Saskatchewan's Brett Lauther.
The third quarter was a different story, with Evans getting into the end zone before Carey and Mills each scored on two-yard runs for Calgary.
Richie Sindani, a Regina product, caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jake Maier in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Mario Alford electrified the crowd in the final minute with a 104-yard punt return for a touchdown. He is the first player in Riders history to score touchdowns in the same season on a kickoff return, a punt return and a missed field goal return.
Shawn Lemon, Folarin Orimolade, Fraser Sopik, Cameron Judge and T.J. Rayan had sacks for the Stampeders. Lemon has 14 sacks this season, tying his career best set in 2016 with the Toronto Argonauts.