REGINA — Whether he’s healthy or not, Cody Fajardo says he’ll be ready for the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ next game.
Thanks to their 23-13 victory over the visiting Edmonton Eskimos, the Riders finished in first place in the CFL’s West Division and will now host the West Final Nov. 17 at home against either the Calgary Stampeders or Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” said Fajardo, who missed Saturday’s game because of an oblique injury he suffered at practice earlier in the week.
“I’m going to be ready to go. It doesn’t matter how bad the pain is, it’s playoffs and I’m going to play through it. It doesn’t matter if I get hurt even more. I’m going to be out there with my guys until I keel over on the field.”
Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said Fajardo was “not close” to playing against Edmonton, but added “I think he’ll be fine” when the playoffs start.
Fajardo’s close friend, rookie Isaac Harker, marched the Riders on a game-winning drive, which was capped by a 12-yard field goal from Brett Lauther with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. That score snapped a 13-13 tie. Lauther had missed his previous three attempts and was 2-for-6 in the game.
“Every time I go out there I’m confident I can make the kick,” Lauther said. “If I don’t, I just train myself to be on to the next one. I’m confident I can make every kick. Even in this game, after I missed three or four in a row, I felt like I was still going to make the next kick.”
A Cam Judge pick-six on the ensuing Edmonton possession provided insurance. He returned the interception 29 yards for a touchdown.
The win was the Riders’ 13th of the season, their highest total since 1970, and marks the first time the team has finished first in their division since the 2009 season. Playing at home in the playoffs, where the Riders have won seven consecutive games, is an advantage.
“It’s incredibly special and it’s the one thing I try to get through to some of the guys is just how important this moment is for the people of this province," said offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, a product of Weyburn, Sask., and graduate of the University of Regina Rams program.
The Eskimos (8-10) will, for the fourth time, be the crossover team and take on the Montreal Alouettes in the East semifinal. West teams are 4-7 in this contest.
“Our guys are excited about the journey we’re about to be on,” Eskimos head coach Jason Maas said.
Both the Riders and Eskimos were without their No. 1 quarterbacks.
Harker started for Fajardo and completed 23-of-28 pass attempts for 213 yards.
Edmonton’s Trevor Harris did not dress. Logan Kilgore started in his place.
“There’s a fine between resting and getting guys ready,” Maas said. “We just expected every guy in our locker room to go out and do their job. We were going to live with the consequences of that, and it just so happened to be a loss tonight.”
Kilgore managed just 88 yards passing on 12-of-22 attempts.
Marcus Thigpen’s touchdown run and Lauther’s 50-yard field goal in the first quarter gave the Riders an early 10-0 lead, one they took into the halftime break.
Edmonton scored on its first possession of the second half when Logan Kilgore found Tevaun Smith in the back corner of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Kilgore hooked up with Kevin Elliott for a seven-yard touchdown that gave the Eskimos their first lead at 13-12.
A missed field goal from Lauther sailed through the end zone for a single and knotted the score at 13 with eight minutes remaining
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2019.
Craig Slater, The Canadian Press