The Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-11) are set to host the Toronto Argonauts (14-2) on Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium (2 p.m., TSN) in Week 20 of the CFL season.
It will be the final game of the regular season for the Riders, who enter the contest on a six-game losing skid, while Toronto, who has already clinched first place in the East Division, still has one more game next week before the playoffs begin on Nov. 4.
After being in the driver’s seat for the last month when it came to their playoff fate, that’s no longer the case for Saskatchewan.
If the Calgary Stampeders (5-11) beat the B.C. Lions (12-5) on Friday night, the Riders will need a win against Toronto to keep their playoff hopes alive.
If the Lions beat the Stamps, then Saskatchewan could clinch the third and final spot in the West Division standings, eliminating Calgary in the process.
“Win or lose, we’ve still got a shot, but we’ve got to take care of our end of the bargain,” said Riders’ quarterback Jake Dolegala. “It’d be nice for B.C. to win but we’ll see.”
However, if Calgary and Saskatchewan end up with the same result, then Calgary can still clinch the final spot with a win against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (12-4) on Oct. 27 while the Green and White are on a bye week.
Despite losing their last six games and now not being in control of their playoff fate, Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said the pressure around his team hasn’t increased at all.
“We can’t feel any more pressure than we’ve already put on ourselves,” said Dickenson. “We’ve had this last month where we pretty much could clinch if we could put a win or two together and the chips have fallen in a way that allows us to still clinch if we can get a break with Calgary and B.C.
“I just don’t think there’s any more pressure these guys can feel that would affect them. We’ve felt it all year.”
Despite having first place already clinched, the Argos are starting their key players on Saturday including quarterback Chad Kelly and running back AJ Oullette.
Meanwhile, the Riders will go with a very similar lineup from last week.
Bryan Cox Jr. is set to start at defensive end in place of Christian Albright, who heads to the one-game injured list. Fellow defensive lineman Brayden Thomas will also make his Rider debut.
Linebacker T.J. Brunson returns to the lineup after a one-game absence, while linebacker Jaylen Moody heads to the one-game injured list.
Brett Lauther returns to kick after being a late scratch due to an illness last week.
And linebacker Brian Harelimana and fullback Bruno LaBelle also come onto the roster for defensive back Jaxon Ford and receiver Juwan Brescacin, who have both been placed on the one-game injured list.
Toronto and Saskatchewan last met in Week 8 for Touchdown Atlantic, with the Argos winning 31-13.
Saskatchewan put up 426 yards of net offence compared to just 200 by Toronto but the Riders came out on the losing end after turning the ball over four times, including an interception returned for a touchdown, while also giving up a punt return touchdown.
“They’re similar guys and they’re running the same stuff,” said Dickenson. “It’s the same team but that was a long time ago.
“But we’ve showed the guys the film from that game out in Halifax and we’ve emphasized what we think they’re going to again and we’ve got to respond better than what we did in Halifax.”
Dolegala vs. Kelly
Saturday’s game will feature two Western New York products going head-to-head at quarterback with Dolegala and Kelly.
Kelly, 29, is two years older than Dolegala, 27, but they are both from the Buffalo area as Kelly attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute while Dolegala went to Saint Francis High School.
And while Dolegala and Kelly never played in a game against each other when both started, Dolegala’s older brother Jarrett played linebacker several times against Kelly, as Jake watched on.
The two quarterbacks did play against each other in the NFL pre-season though, when Dolegala was with the Cincinnati Bengals and Kelly was with the Indianapolis Colts.
Now, years later, they will face each in the CFL.
“Being rivals through high school, we weren’t always the best of friends but we get along,” said Dolegala, who also technically played against Kelly in Halifax when he saw action in the fourth quarter. “It’s good (publicity) for Western New York football so it’ll be nice.”
In their previous meeting, Toronto registered five sacks while allowing just one against Saskatchewan.
Last week against the Ottawa Redblacks, the Argos put a season-high nine sacks on the board, tying a franchise record set in 1984. The group enters Saturday’s ranked No. 1 in the CFL in that category and are now just one sack shy of tying the all-time team record of 64 set in 1987.
“We’ve really made a point of really getting our players attention on not just the numbers … but also on the players that they actually have,” said Dickenson. “We’ve challenged our offensive line and offensive group to handle the pressure.
“They’re a good group and it’s going to be a test.”
This season, the Argos are also tops in the CFL having allowed just 15, which gives them a sack ratio of plus-48, which would put them No. 1 all-time since the league first started recording the stat in 1980.
The current record belongs to the 1988 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who were plus-47 (80 for and 33 allowed).