There are a lot of new faces in the lineup for the Saskatchewan Roughriders as they try to get back into the win column.
The Riders fell to the Toronto Argonauts 30-24 in Wolfville NS at the CFL Touchdown Atlantic game on July 16. On Sunday, Saskatchewan is to play host to the Argos at Mosaic Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5 pm The Green Zone pre-game show begins at 3 pm
There are seven Roughriders who were listed as starters last week who are out of this week’s game due to illness or injury, including starting quarterback Cody Fajardo.
“We feel like we’ve got a shot. I’m sure we’re the underdogs in this game but we’ve got 45 (players) and they’ve got 45,” head coach Craig Dickenson said. “We’re going to come out here and play hard and we expect to be competitive and if we make a few plays, we might win it.”
Fajardo missed practice all week due to being in COVID protocol; he’s one of at least 14 players and five staff members who tested positive for the virus over the past few weeks.
With backup quarterback Mason Fine also in COVID protocol for most of the week — he finally rejoined the team on Saturday — 25-year-old CFL rookie Jake Dolegala will be the team’s primary pivot on Sunday.
“You’re going to have those nervous butterflies, but they’re good butterflies,” Dolegala said. “I’m going to go about it like any other game day. I’m going to get here nice and early (and) just take my time with everything because I don’t want to feel rushed at all. When game time comes, just go out there and ball.”
And what sort of mentality does the young quarterback have?
“To win. It doesn’t matter that it’s my first start; I prepare every day like I’m going to be the starter. The fact I get the opportunity now, I just have to go out there and prove it to myself and everybody else that I belong,” Dolegala said.
For the most part, the receivers Dolegala will be throwing to are also trying to make an impact early in their CFL careers.
Slotback Kian Schaffer-Baker leads the group starting Sunday’s game with 18 career CFL games played, with Mario Alford bringing 16 of his own into the game. Outside of those two, the other receivers are CFL newcomers in their first seasons: Dieuly Aristilde Jr., Tevin Jones and Sam Emilus.
“It means the world to me just to get my first CFL start. It may not be the way I wanted it, but it’s an opportunity nonetheless and I can’t be mad,” Aristilde Jr.
Receivers Shaq Evans (ankle), Kyran Moore (ACL), Jakob Prall (shoulder), Mitch Picton (ankle), Jake Harty (shoulder), Justin McInnis (illness) and Duke Williams (suspension) are all out for the week.
The Riders won’t have any backups at the position Sunday.
“I told the receivers nobody is allowed to get injured this game and they said, ‘OK, Coach, we’ve got you,’” Dickenson said.
Also missing due to illness this week are fullback Albert Awachie, defensive tackle Charbel Dabire, defensive back Nick Marshall and offensive tackle Terran Vaughn.
Offensive lineman Josiah St. John will find his way into the lineup for the first time this season.
Defensive end AC Leonard has been added to the six-game injured list due to a lingering shoulder/neck issue. Defensive end Charleston Hughes will rejoin the active roster this week.
The Riders’ defense will look to have a bounce-back game when it comes to the pass rush. Saskatchewan has a league-leading 23 sacks but was held without one by the Argos last time out. Argos quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw for 276 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Wolfville.
Saskatchewan defensive tackle Anthony Lanier II believes execution and having the pass rush go after the quarterback could help lead the team add to its total sack.
“We kind of got away from that because we had a few injuries and the first time being on the field with everyone (new) so now it’s like we got our feet wet so here we go now,” Lanier II said.
The previous game against the Argos featured a boiling pot of emotions.
Prior to the game, Williams chucked Argos defensive back Shaq Richardson’s helmet at him, which is what led to Williams’ suspension.
During the game, Richardson struck Williams in the helmet. Both teams also committed a bevy of penalties in the showdown, with Saskatchewan getting flagged 13 times for 132 yards while the Argos had 15 infractions for 153 yards.
“I think every game is a new opportunity and it presents its own challenges,” Riders linebacker Larry Dean told The Green Zone. “I don’t think there will be much carryover, especially with the league and how they are enforcing things and coming down on guys.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism