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REGINA — The circumstances may be strange but Jake Dolegala isn’t about to pass up on the opportunity to be the starting quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
It’s been a tough week for the Roughriders, who will host the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium. The game was initially scheduled for Saturday but it was rescheduled as the Saskatchewan locker-room dealt with a number of COVID-19 cases following last week’s game in Halifax.
Riders starter Cody Fajardo, who has been dealing with a knee injury, will miss Sunday’s game due to COVID while backup Mason Fine, who also has been going through the COVID protocol, will be a game-time decision.
That leaves Dolegala who will make his first professional start Sunday. After not dressing for the first six games of the season, the 6-foot-7, 242-pound Dolegala is excited about getting on the field.
“I'm just looking forward to an opportunity to get out there and play the game I love. That's really what it comes down to,” said the 25-year-old Dolegala. “No matter how we got to this point, it's an opportunity for me to play and I'm looking forward to it.”
While Dolegala did get some game experience in the pre-season, he’s been limited to practice reps once the regular season began.
Coming on the heels of a 30-24 loss to the Argonauts (2-2) on July 16 in Halifax, the Riders (4-2) are putting their faith in a quarterback who came to the CFL this season after bouncing around the National Football League for three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins.
Dolegala arrived prior to training camp to work with Riders offensive coordinator Jason Maas who has tailored Sunday’s game plan for the rookie.
“He knows what my strengths are and he's kind of made the game plan suit my type of play. I really appreciate that,” said Dolegala. “It’s not much different than what we normally do because I've had to adjust my game to our offense but I mean, it's a passing league. That's what it is and I like to think of myself as a passer. It's going to be fun.”
Riders head coach Craig Dickenson has realistic expectations for Dolegala.
“I just expect him to manage the game. You know, no time count violations, get the guys in and out of the huddle. If we have a negative play, move on to the next one.,’ said Dickenson. “Do what he's done all year in practice, distribute the football, try to play in rhythm and take care of the ball.”
Saskatchewan will be missing 10 regulars from its lineup with the offence taking the biggest hit. In addition to starting the untested Dolegala, the Roughriders plan to dress five receivers with Kian Schaffer-Baker being the only regular starter the mix.
On defence, there’s two changes in the backfield and two on the defensive line but two of the replacements — defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and defensive back Nelson Lokombo — have seen regular action this season.
Dickenson feels the Riders are underdogs this weekend but he believes his players are ready to go against Toronto.
“I'm sure we're the underdogs in this game, but we’ve got 45 guys and they’ve got 45 So we're going to come out here and play hard,” said Dickenson. “We expect to be competitive and if we make a few plays, we might win it.”
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (2-2) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (4-2)
Sunday, Mosaic Stadium
OFF AND RUNNING: Schaffer-Baker is leading the CFL in yards after the catch (YAC). Schaffer-Baker has caught 32 passes for 370 yards with 201 YAC. Calgary’s Malik Henry is second in the league with 196 YAC.
SACK ATTACK: Toronto registered five sacks in last week’s win over Saskatchewan which tops the CFL with 23 sacks in six games. The Argos have 10 sacks in four games. Saskatchewan defensive tackle Pete Robertson, currently sidelined with a broken foot, is the league leader with seven sacks.
IN THE SIN BIN: Saskatchewan’s Garrett Marino and Duke Williams will both miss Sunday’s game due to suspensions. It’s the second game of a four-game suspension for Marino coming from his play in the July 8 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks. Williams was suspended for one game for his role in a pre-game fracas with Toronto’s Shaquille Richardson in last week’s Touchdown Atlantic game.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2022.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press