Roughriders lose third straight after being topped 31-13 by Argonauts in Halifax

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Mason Fine is brought down by the Toronto Argonauts during Touchdown Atlantic in Halifax during Week 8 of the CFL season. PHOTO BY KEVIN SOUSA /CFL.

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

The Saskatchewan Roughriders weren’t able to produce many touchdowns during Touchdown Atlantic.

For the second straight season, the Riders and Toronto Argonauts met in Nova Scotia for Touchdown Atlantic — this time in Halifax — for the sixth regular season CFL game held in Atlantic Canada. 

And for the second straight season, the Argos came away with the victory, winning the 2023 edition of the game by a score of 31-13. The loss was the third straight for the Riders, dropping their record to 3-4, while the Argos improve to 6-0, remaining the only undefeated team in the CFL. 

After the Riders’ offence failed to produce a touchdown last week in a 19-9 loss to the B.C. Lions, Saskatchewan was looking for more production quarterback Mason Fine, who was making his second start of the season in place of the injured Trevor Harris

And while Fine completed 27-of-39 passes for 302 yards, he didn’t produce a touchdown and threw two interceptions. Backup Jake Dolegala, who got into the game with three minutes to go, threw the Riders’ only touchdown, as he completed 4-of-5 passes for 100 yards in his only drive of the game.

“I’ve got to play better,” Fine told media in Halifax after the game. “I’m not happy with the way I performed and I know I can play better and I’ve got to.

“So the yards, yeah I mean they are great, it shows (we’re) a little bit on the verge but you’ve got to look at the scoreboard at the end of the day and see if you won or lost and see if you put points up.”

Fine started the game out strong with a 14-yard pass to Shawn Bane Jr. but then didn’t have another first down until early in the second quarter, as Riders’ punter Adam Korsak was called upon early and often. 

On Korsak’s first punt of the game, Argos’ returner Javon Leake brought it back 49 yards, before Riders’ defensive back Jayden Dalke made a touchdown-saving tackle. The drive resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Boris Bede, as Toronto took the early 3-0 lead.

After no production on their next two drives, the Riders punted it away for a third time and on the return Leake wasn’t going to be stopped this time, as he broke free from a few Riders’ defenders, taking it 71 yards to the end zone to make 10-0 for Toronto. 

The Riders responded with a loss of five on a screen pass, followed by an incompletion. Korsak then punted it away for the fourth time in the opening 11 minutes of the game. 

The Argos then put together a seven-play, 39-yard drive which resulted in a 35-yard field goal by Bede, as Toronto went up 13-0. 

After that, the Riders put together a 58-second drive, which included a running play on second-and-five, which was predictably stopped short. Korsak then punted it away to end the opening quarter. 

The Riders’ seventh drive of the game didn’t result in a punt like the previous six, but instead it was an interception, as Argos’ defensive back Robertson Daniel picked off Fine and returned it 24 yards, giving Toronto good field position.

And a few plays later, Argos’ quarterback Chad Kelly connected with receiver Dejon Brissett, who was able to walk into the end zone from two yards out. Brissett would also catch a two-point conversion as the Argos went up 21-0 with 4:25 left in the first half. 

The Riders responded with a drive that included three first downs, getting all the way to the Toronto 34-yard line before back-to-back sacks forced them out of field goal range. Korsak punted it away for a seventh time.

Saskatchewan’s defence forced a two-and-out and the Argos punted it away for a fourth time in the game, leaving Fine and the offence under a minute to put a drive together with good field position from the Argos’ 48-yard line.

The Riders marched all the way down to the Argos’ two-yard line, before Fine handed off to running back Jamal Morrow, who attempted to stretch across the goal line, before a hit forced the ball loose. The Argos recovered the fumble in the end zone, as the Riders came away from the drive empty-handed as Toronto led 21-0 at the half.

Early in the second quarter, the Riders moved the ball with an 11-play, 65 yard drive but after a holding penalty and a sack, they came away with just three points as Truro, N.S. product Brett Lauther kicked a 39-yard field goal to get the Riders on the board, making it a 21-3 game.

That offensive drive appeared to spark Saskatchewan. After they got the ball back, Fine hit receiver Shawn Bane Jr. for a 42-yard gain, followed by back-to-back first downs to Samuel Emilus.

But when the Riders got down to the six-yard line, three straight incomplete passes by Fine — including an unsuccessful third-down gamble on a throw to Brayden Lenius in the end zone — resulted in no points and a turnover on downs after a nine-play, 92-yard drive.

After the teams traded field goals to make it 24-6, any offensive momentum the Riders built up was quickly erased. On Saskatchewan’s next possession, Fine was intercepted by DaShaun Amos, who returned it for the touchdown, increasing the Argos’ lead to 31-6.

When the Riders got the ball back with three minutes to go, backup quarterback Jake Dolegala entered the game for the Riders and threw three 31-yard gains to Tevin Jones, Emilus and Bane Jr., the latter of which resulted in a touchdown for Saskatchewan’s first major score of the night on Dolegala’s first drive of the game to cut the lead to 31-13 with the convert.

However the game was basically out of reach by then.

“It wasn’t that Mason wasn’t moving the football. I was happy with the way he was playing in that last quarter but I just wanted to see Jake get some reps and I felt like the game was, in theory, a little bit out of reach at that time,” Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said in the post-game press conference.

Saskatchewan put up 426 yards of net offence while holding Toronto to just 200 yards, as Kelly completed 13-of-21 passes for 122 yards with one touchdown and one interception. However, Saskatchewan turned the ball over five times compared to just one by the Argos. The Riders also allowed five sack and were 0-for-3 in the red zone.

“Defence kept us in this game,” said Dickenson. “I thought they did a nice job.”

The Riders will now look to rebound next Sunday, August 6 as they host the 3-4 Ottawa Redblacks at Mosaic Stadium (5 p.m, TSN). And it appears Dickenson is sticking with Fine as his starting quarterback, despite Dolegala engineering the Riders only touchdown of the night.

“I felt like Mason did enough, played well enough to continue to start,” said Dickenson.

“We’ve got to do better in all three phases and I think we will,” the head coach added. “We’re going to work hard this week and try to make some improvements.”