That’s all she wrote.
The 2014 season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders came to a painful conclusion on Sunday with an 18-10 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Semifinal at Commonwealth Stadium before a paltry crowd of 26,237.
Any season-ending game is painful unless you win it, which means you’ve won the championship, but Sunday’s was particularly hard to swallow for Canada’s Team because it was there for the taking.
Quarterback Kerry Joseph unexpectedly served up five interceptions and the Riders lost the sack battle 7-3 however remarkably they were still in the game until the final couple minutes. The back-breaker was an 84-yard punt return touchdown by Edmonton’s Kendial Lawrence with 6:20 to go in the first half.
Perhaps it wasn’t even the back-breaker, but it accounted for the winning points and the Saskatchewan Roughriders were sent into the off-season without much warning. No one was prepared for the season to end so early. With four Grey Cup appearances over the past seven years, you kind of expect to be in the dance every season.
But maybe we were kidding ourselves to think there was still hope of repeating as Grey Cup champions even after Darian Durant went down with injury on September 7. Inexplicably, the whole team sagged at that point losing seven of its final nine games including Sunday’s playoff encounter.
It will haunt the Roughriders over the next six months; how could one player’s absence affect the entire unit so badly? I’m assuming if the coaches had the answer, they would have come up with it over those final two months.
And perhaps it was too much to ask of 41-year old Kerry Joseph to come out of retirement and try to lead this team to its fifth Grey Cup title having only signed on October 9. Sunday was Joseph’s seventh career playoff start but he looked like a rookie and privately admitted afterwards he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the offense and could have used more practice reps during the week of preparation.
Joseph said that would be his last game. He doesn’t want to play anymore.
What a way to go out.
The same goes for the Roughriders who – after digesting this difficult loss – will begin picking up the pieces and chart a plan to move forward. But this particular football game in Edmonton will always be remembered as the one that got away.
“We had a chance to win that game but they are a high-powered team and they smothered us in a couple phases,” Rider coach Corey Chamblin said afterwards “They won.
“Defense played hard. They were strong and didn’t give up. In the end we didn’t get it done and whenever you lose a turnover battle like that, you won’t win. It should’ve been a blowout. We held them to three at times and we were real strong there.”
There are plenty of questions to be answered by Roughrider G.M. Brendan Taman regarding his roster heading into 2015, most notably at quarterback. Kerry Joseph won’t be back but Darian Durant certainly will along with back-ups Tino Sunseri, Seth Doege and Keith Price. There’s room for them all to return but have they used up their chances? Likely not.
Some Rider players will tell you it wasn’t just Durant’s injury which chopped their legs out midway through the season. Injuries to special teams aces like Neal Hughes and Scott McHenry coupled with the departures of Graig Newman and Craig Butler left a gaping hole in that phase of the game.
There are plenty of holes to be filled and Chamblin knows it.
“I thought we over-achieved,” Chamblin said when asked to reflect on the year. “I thought we were an average team coming out of training camp but they fought like hell to get to the Grey Cup. They just came up eight points shy.”
Rider legend Roger Aldag always said in Saskatchewan there are two seasons: Rider season and winter.
(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)