Mike Reilly and the Eskimos were brought down by Tearrius George and the Riders Saturday.Saturday's game certainly wasn't the most inspiring performance the Saskatchewan Roughriders have ever turned in, but the 14-9 win they picked up over Edmonton may still prove crucial in the West Division playoff standings. A week after they seemingly got back on track with a road win over B.C., many expected the 9-5 Roughriders to blow out the 3-11 Eskimos in the friendly confines of Mosaic Stadium, but Saskatchewan only emerged triumphant thanks to a late defensive stand and a ruling that Eskimos' quarterback Mike Reilly wasn't able to break the plane of the goal line on a third-down rush. Still, there were some bright spots for the Riders here, and the win itself is critical; it vaults them into second place in the West and may even give them the chance to challenge Calgary for first.
The best takeaway from this for Saskatchewan is how their defence stepped up. The goal-line stand at the end was incredible, albeit controversial; Reilly's final plunge was a reasonably close call, and before that, Edmonton did actually score, only to have the play nullified by a last-second timeout from the Rider sidelines. Beyond that, though, the defence was solid all day, holding Reilly to 244 passing yards and no touchdowns with a 50 per cent completion percentage and picking him off twice. That wasn't all on Reilly, of course, as the Eskimos' offensive line looked like its typically abhorrent self, collapsing frequently under the Saskatchewan pass rush and failing to give their quarterback time. The line also was unable to clear the way for the ground game; Edmonton collected just 80 rushing yards total, 42 of which came from Reilly scrambles and another 12 of which were added by punter/kicker Grant Shaw on a fake punt. Still, while part of those numbers are about the Eskimos' offensive struggles, the Riders' defence deserves plenty of credit here.
Another highlight for the Riders is that their rushing offence continued to perform solidly. Kory Sheets picked up 106 yards and a touchdown on the day, and was responsible for most of the good things that happened when Saskatchewan had the ball. By contrast, quarterback Darian Durant had an awful day by his standards, throwing for just 170 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions (although he did complete 66.7 per cent of his passes). Of course, it took Sheets 24 carries to get his yards, meaning he collected just 4.4 yards per carry on the day (far less than the season-long or last-night numbers posted by Jon Cornish, who Sheets criticized earlier this week), so efficiency wasn't his strong suit, and that was part of what kept the Riders from scoring more points. Still, the Saskatchewan ground game's back, and that's a good thing for Rider fans.
With the victory, Saskatchewan improves to 10-5 and takes over sole possession of second-place in the West Division thanks to B.C. losing to Calgary Friday night. The Riders still have a shot at first, too; they're two games back of the 12-3 Stampeders, but have three left, including a head-to-head clash in Calgary Oct. 26, and can win the season series tiebreaker with a victory there. Hanging on to at least second could be crucial though, as that would guarantee a home playoff game; although the Riders' home and road records are similar (5-2 versus 5-3), Mosaic Stadium in November is anything but a pleasant place to play. This team's going to need to get better than they were Saturday if they want to have any shot at appearing in the hometown Grey Cup this year, but the win gives them a solid spot in the standings and a good chance to host a playoff game. If they can improve their play down the stretch, it might yet be a great November in Regina.