The Battle of Saskatchewan

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIAugust 21, 2009

This article is meant to sooth and calm the nerves for all fans in the Rider Nation.  Filled with anxiety as the injuries pile up, as Darian Durant gets mishandled, as the offensive line crumbles, as Western opponents start to right themselves, fans of the Roughriders need to relax and get a grip on themselves. Let's try meditation.

Get out an old photo of the Riders winning the Cup two years ago, something like the one I have posted for this article. Stare at it deeply for a long time...relax and meditate.

Close your eyes. You are getting sleepy. You've worried too long and you are tired. Close your eyes and relax. Sleep...deeper...sleep.

You will sleep like Rip Van Winkle...longer...deeper.

When you wake up, try not to trip over your long beard or fret about grey hairs.

When you wake up it will be September...September 3rd.

September 3rd was a remarkable day for Oliver Cromwell. He massacred an Irish town on that day and on the following two September 3rds won battles at Dunbar and Worcester. He capped it off by dying a few years later on, you guessed it, September 3rd.

But this September 3rd is Labor Day, the day of all the CFL "classic games," where each team battles against its bitter archrival: Calgary-Edmonton, Toronto-Hamilton....

So on this September 3rd, the Roughriders will travel north from Regina, away from Taylor Field or whatever a new sponsor wants to call it, up the turnpike through the wheat fields to Microslob Diefenbaker Stadium in Saskatoon to battle the Scavengers.

It is an important game for both teams. Regina sits third in the CFL Midwest division, ahead of Kitchener and Winnipeg, but behind London and Windsor.

Saskatoon is doing even better as they sit in second place in the West Division, behind Edmonton but ahead of Vancouver, Calgary, and Victoria. Whoever wins this classic will take a big step to making the playoffs.

The Roughriders, in their road white and green uniforms, will emerge on the field to a chorus of heavy booing from 50,000 Scavenger partisans. You'll notice there are a few patrons who dare flaunt the green and white, but Microslob is a sea of turquoise and orange that lets out a huge roar as their similarly clad team takes the field.

While the provincial anthem is being sung, you look at the scoreboard and see the results of the other classic games that have already been played.  

In the far east, Moncton has decimated Halifax, while in Quebec, the Alouettes have narrowly lost to their bitter rival in the stadium on the Plains of Abraham. Trois Rivieres has also managed to defeat Sherbrooke.

In Ontario, Ottawa has beaten Oshawa while the Argonauts have gone down as usual to the Tiger-Cats. 

But your interest centers on your own division rivals. Bad news. Division-leading London has defeated cellar-dwelling Kitchener. Winnipeg is currently ahead of Windsor.

Later, Calgary will play Edmonton and Vancouver is at Victoria. The twenty-team CFL is certainly the place to be on Labor Day.

Now at centre field, the coin is tossed and the Scavengers win. They chose to defer until the second half, so the Roughriders get the ball.

Back to the end zone goes Gimmic Williams to await the kickoff from James Cutler.

There's the boot...Gimmic takes it at the five and brings it out to the 33. The Riders huddle up and then come to the line for the first play. They have to go on the silent count due to the obnoxiously loud noise from the stands.

To no one's surprise, it's a hand-off from quarterback Burt Lancaster to his halfback Darrius Reed, the leading rusher in the CFL. Five yards are gained. The Riders break huddle... it's a quick hitch to East Gates but it is broken up by Larry Allbald. The Riders will have to punt. The crowd roars its approval.

The Scavengers get the ball at their 43 following a 10-yard return. They break the huddle, led by all-star quarterback Warrant Sun.  He calls a draw play to Harry Lumsden, but Lumsden gets taken down at the 49.

And stays down. Lumdsen tries to get to his feet, but starts hobbling. This is his first game back since missing the last four. The trainer and a teammate help him off the field, but it doesn't look like he will be back. Such is football.

Without his top runner, Sun drops back to pass, hitting flanker Terror Owens for a first down. A short pass to one of his slot backs gains another five.

Sun drops back yet again. Blitz! Sun can't escape and is taken down by Ed MacQuarterpounder. Their fans gnash their teeth and call for a penalty.  

The Scavengers are just out of field goal range so they have to punt. Gimmic takes the ball and concedes a single point. The Scavengers have drawn first blood.

Lancaster goes back to pass deep down the middle to Glued Hugh Heinz for a first down in Saskatoon territory.  

Next is a hand-off to Reed, but the Scavengers are waiting and he only manages three. A quick post to slotback Chris Getsflat takes the Riders to the 20.

But there the drive stalls. Dave Rockhead comes on to try a field's good. Coach Fred Autistic is satisfied, but disappointed his team didn't finish the drive.

The quarter is played out, but that's it for the scoring.  As expected, it's a tough defensive battle: Regina 3, Saskatoon 1.

But midway through the second quarter the Riders get going. Lancaster is getting great protection from his offensive linemen, Roger Oldhead and Ted Urness IV. Again they drive deep into Saskatoon territory. But just when the drive seems to stall, a roughing-the-passer penalty puts the ball at the five.

Saskatoon knows what is coming but they still can't stop it and Reed takes it in. Rockhead converts and the Roughriders now have a commanding 10-1 lead.

But not for long. The Regina kickoff team plays carelessly and the ball is returned inside their own 10. Sun makes quick work of things and slotback Allen Pitstop adds to his league-leading touchdown count. Just when the Riders looked like they were breaking away, the score returns to a tight 10-8 knot.

Again it reverts to a defensive struggle, with Regina managing to kick another field goal for a 13-8 lead. This closes out the first half scoring.

You turn on your Blockberry to watch the televised half-time show. There is a special guest in the stands at Microslob, Bill Sostuburn, the rich billionaire who owns the Scavengers and is currently trying to bring an NHL team to Saskatoon.

Sostuburn has recently set up an Internet link, MakeItSeven, in imitation of the attempt of the late James Balsillie, who tried to get a team for Hamilton so long ago.

The NHL of course has grown to 40 teams, 34 American and 6 Canadian. It was only a few months ago that New Orleans defeated Jacksonville for the Stanley Cup.

Sostuburn is not too optimistic about getting a team. He is in competition with Shreveport, Toledo, Green Bay, and Tuscon for the next expansion, but vows to do all he can.

After the interview is over, you watch the rest of the halftime analysis, view the stats, and get ready for the second half. On the sidelines, a TSN reporter is interviewing Rider General Manager Falcon Locks, who confirms that the roster is set for the remainder of the season.

The Scavengers get the ball, and they mean business. They've obviously made adjustments and march down the field, chewing up six minutes on the clock before Sun sneaks in from the one. To add insult to injury they convert a two-point attempt, giving them a 16-13 lead.

There is bedlam in Microslob. That Scavenger fan standing beside you who had his head down now punches your shoulder with joy. You grit your teeth and vow to come back.

Lancaster does just that. Runs by Reed and passes to Heinz and Getsflat take the ball to the Saskatoon 30s. But Saskatoon's defense stiffens and Rockhead kicks the tying field goal.

Sasktoon gets a good kick return and starts at its own 43. Pitstop makes a spectacular catch at the Regina 25. A draw play to backup running back Avon Colburnt fools the defense and moves it to the eight. Sun makes no mistake and hits Tommie John Greentea for the major.

You endure more taunts from that Saskatoon fan and say, "Watch this drive."

And it happens sooner than expected. Lancaster throws the bomb to Heinz, who got behind the Saskatoon defense, and goes all the way. There is a stunned murmur in Microslob. The third quarter ends with score tied at 23-23.

Coach Autistic has huddled with his defense to tighten up and stop the Saskatoon offense that has become so dominating.

It pays off. On the first drive of the fourth quarter, defensive ends MacQuarterpounder and Bill Butcher put pressure on Warrant Sun. He hurries his throw and it is picked off by linebacker Don Itchison.

The Riders are in business at the Saskatoon 51. Lancaster gets a couple of first downs but the drive is stopped, and Rockhead puts the Riders ahead 26-23.

But Sun hasn't set yet. He drives down the field and, with under three minutes remaining, hits Pitstop in the end-zone for the go-ahead touchdown. There is delirium in Microslob as the Scavengers take a 30-26 lead.

And things go from bad to worse. Each time he has been challenged, Lancaster has responded. But this time the Saskatoon defense, knowing he has to pass, finally sacks him and forces a two and out.

The Saskatoon fan gloats and grins at you, knowing all the Scavengers have to do is run out the clock. They get a first down. There is despair on your face.

Then the ball is handed off and MacQuarterpounder and Butcher converge. MacQuarterpounder hits the runner and Butcher strips the ball. There is a scramble, but Bobby Juradistic falls on it. The Riders have one last gasp at the Saskatoon 22 with under a minute left.

The tension mounts and you begin to sweat. So much is riding on this Labor Day game. You pray that Oldhead and Urness can give Lancaster time to work a miracle.

Lancaster passes out in the flat to Heinz, who takes the ball out-of-bounds at the 11. The tension is suffocating. Only time for one or two more plays.

Sasktoon is obviously playing for the end-zone. Their safeties are already posted there.

Lancaster goes back to pass. There is no blitz as Urness, Oldhead, and their fellow linemen are giving him time.

Lancaster is looking to the end zone...No!... it's out in the flat to the Reed! He's at the five... they're trying to gang tackle him at the two... touchdown!

Saskatoon was fooled on the play, not expecting Lancaster to use Reed as a receiver.

Rockhead kicks the extra point and the game-ending on-side kick wins the game for Regina at 33-30.

The Saskatoon fan snarls,  "We'll see you in the Western Final!"

And Roughrider fans, you can wake up now.



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