Riders prepare to brave elements in showdown with visiting Elks

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REGINA — When it comes to playing football in cold weather, CFL head coaches Craig Dickenson and Jaime Elizondo agree that it’s a case of mind over matter.

Dickenson’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and Elizondo’s Edmonton Elks will get the opportunity prove the validity of this premise when the teams meet Saturday in Regina.

The forecast for the game, which kicks off at 3 p.m. CT, is for a mix of snow and freezing rain in the morning with winds of 30 kilometres per hour and an afternoon high of minus-1 C.

“It’s the mindset. You get some guys that are focused on the weather as opposed to playing,” said Dickenson. “What happens is you see the teams that really love football come out more when the weather gets cold. The teams that are half and half in terms of liking football, it affects them more.

"We've got enough guys on our team that enjoy playing football regardless of the weather. It takes the joy out of the game for some guys but for some guys it may add a little bit."

For Elizondo, cold weather games are part of the attraction for the CFL.

“The beautiful part about playing in the CFL is you’re going to play cold weather games in November but unfortunately for us, not in December this year,” said Elizondo. “That is just part of it as you’ve got to train it, you’ve got to get used to it. The weather is something that’s more mental than anything else.”

The 8-4 Riders are currently in second place in the West Division and are coming off a 19-17 victory over the 2-9 Elks last week in Edmonton.

The Riders were expected beat the Elks handily, but Edmonton almost pulled off an upset with a fourth quarter comeback orchestrated by quarterback Taylor Cornelius. After going 10 for 21 passing for 117 in the first three quarters, Cornelius completed 11 of 14 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

It was an impressive effort, especially with the Elks missing three key offensive players due to injury. Running back James Wilder Jr. and receivers Greg Ellingson and Derel Walker will also miss Saturday’s game.

After the Riders held on for the victory, Dickenson delivered a pointed message to his players.

“The message to our team was that we need to finish games. We always want to start fast but we also have to finish strong,” said Dickenson. “We place a lot of emphasis on the strength and conditioning aspects of our program and I didn’t feel like it kicked in like it needed to against Edmonton.

"Hopefully we’ll do better than that but give credit to Edmonton. I thought their coaches did a good job of just staying the course. I thought their quarterback showed a lot of moxie, staying positive and continuing to keep playing and the guys started making plays for him. Credit to them for a strong effort in the fourth quarter.”

There are two scenarios this weekend that would enable the Riders to clinch second place in the West Division and host the Nov. 28 semifinal playoff game:

If the 4-8 B.C. Lions beat the 6-6 Calgary Stampeders Friday night in Vancouver, the Riders will clinch second place in the West Division. If the Stampeders win, a Rider victory Saturday over the Elks would give Saskatchewan second place and the home playoff game.

With the playoffs in sight, Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo has stressed to his teammates that the cold weather is here to stay.

“The weather’s not going to get any warmer moving forward. I hope guys know that, not just that it’s going to be cold this weekend and next weekend it’s going to be nice and sunny all of a sudden,” said Fajardo. “We’re going to be in this for the long haul and we’re going to have to win some very important games in this weather.”

EDMONTON ELKS (2-9) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (8-4)

Saturday, Mosaic Stadium

HISTORICAL ROAD TRIP: The Elks will end their season with a three-game road trip starting Saturday in Regina. They will play three games in seven days, going from Regina to Toronto on Nov. 16 and finishing the trip in Vancouver on Nov. 19. It’s the first time in CFL history that a team will play three games in seven days. The trip will cover 6,871 kilometres with the Elks playing games in three different time zones.

MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE: Former Riders linebacker Derrick Moncrief, who signed with the Elks on Sept. 7 after being released by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, recorded three sacks in the loss last week.

DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: Riders defensive end Jonathan Woodard leads the CFL with 10 sacks. Teammate AC Leonard and Winnipeg’s Jackson Jeffcoat are tied for second with nine sacks each.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2021.

Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press

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