Just when you're about to bury them under a load of prairie sod, the Saskatchewan Roughriders come to life. They can thank Calgary Stampeders' running back Jon Cornish for their latest revival.
On a weekend in which every CFL team was locked in a divisional skirmish, Calgary versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders was about defence and challenges, pride and accountability. The Riders were told they had to prevent Cornish from gaining 100 yards rushing or, as their coach Corey Chamblin had chattered, jobs would be lost. Not his, of course; his players'.
Given that rallying point, the defence responded by swarming Cornish like wasps at an outdoor dinner, holding him to just 32 yards at halftime and 67 by game's end. It was enough to help the Riders win Sunday, 30-25 at Mosaic Stadium, which has made things a lot more interesting in the West.
While the B.C. Lions comfortably lead the pack at 9-3, Calgary's loss means it is now (7-5) just a game ahead of the resurgent Riders (6-6). And how the Riders handled Calgary is sure to infuse them with hope for the last third of the season.
Veteran Darian Durant was back at quarterback for Saskatchewan, although still suffering from a hip-flexor injury. His start marked the return of the Riders' deep passing game, which resulted in a 17-point third quarter. Using running back Korey Sheets as a receiver, along with the always reliable Weston Dressler, Durant delivered enough big plays to end a seven-game losing streak to Calgary.
And there was more: remembering how Cornish had riddled them for 159 yards rushing in their last encounter, Chamblin added middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn and had him follow Cornish on pass and running plays. Released by Calgary just weeks earlier, Lobendahn not only did the job on the ground, he intercepted a toss from Stampeders' quarterback Kevin Glenn, which then led to a Riders' touchdown.
What was clear in Calgary's loss was just how reliant it is on a Cornish-fed offence.
West 5 Despite his modest effort, the New Westminster-born back remains the CFL's leading rusher and the Stampeders' most influential force. Calgary needs to engage him in its attack and ensuring that will be a necessity since the Stampeders face B.C. twice over the last six weeks – and the way the Lions are rolling, earning wins won't be easy. B.C.'s Saturday triumph in Edmonton proved that, once again.
For the first time all season, the Lions failed to score a first-half touchdown and trailed Edmonton by six points. Quarterback Travis Lulay wasn't at his all-time best yet he did complete 26 of 39 passes, he did throw a touchdown pass for the 23rd game in a row and he did get his team the lead late in the fourth quarter. On his final drive, Lulay darted from the pocket and wristed a 14-yard completion to Geroy Simon that set up Paul McCallum's winning field goal.
As for the Eskimos, the 19-18 defeat dropped them into last place and underlined their issues at quarterbacking, mainly that they don't have a starter good enough to challenge the best teams in the West.
That's why this past weekend was so telling. B.C. won because it made the right plays when it had to. Edmonton lost because it didn't and because it's lacking at the game's most critical position.
The Stampeders could have put themselves on the right side of the Great Divide by beating the Riders and stretching the gap between them. Instead, the Green Gang found a purpose to Sunday's game (stop Cornish), the will to do it and a means to crawl back into the West's playoff picture.
You can stomp them, beat them; slander their name all over the place. But the Riders are alive again, and that makes for a furious finish to the regular season. Honestly, should it be any other way?