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Roughriders' playoff hopes end with 29-26 loss to Argonauts

REGINA — For the second straight season, a seven-game losing streak has eliminated the Saskatchewan Roughriders from the CFL playoff picture. The Riders had their playoff hopes dashed Saturday with a 29-26 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Jerreth Sterns (83) is tackled by Toronto Argonauts defensive back Royce Metchie (9) during the first half of CFL football action in Regina, Sask., on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

REGINA — For the second straight season, a seven-game losing streak has eliminated the Saskatchewan Roughriders from the CFL playoff picture.

The Riders had their playoff hopes dashed Saturday with a 29-26 loss to the Toronto Argonauts. The 6-12-0 Riders needed a victory to keep pace with the Calgary Stampeders for the third and final playoff spot in the West Division. Although the Riders and the 6-11-0 Stampeders are tied for third place, Calgary gets the playoff berth because it won the season series 2-1.

The Riders led at the end of each of the first three quarters (10-7, 17-16 and 23-19) on Saturday but were outscored 10-3 in the fourth quarter by the Argos. The game, and the season, was a case of déjà vu for Riders head coach Craig Dickenson.

“It just felt like we were that close the whole season and then just couldn't, for some reason, get over the hump," said Dickenson.

"And today I thought was similar to a lot of games where we played well for probably 50 minutes of it but had spurts here or there where we turned the ball over a couple of times and gave up a couple big plays and next thing you know, we’re trailing … We just didn't do enough this year. Didn't coach well enough, didn't play well enough at times, and it just didn't turn out like we'd hoped."

With backup quarterback Cameron Dukes taking over for starter Chad Kelly in the third quarter, the Argos earned the victory on a five-yard touchdown run by Dan Adeboboye with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter.

The Riders had two possessions in the final minute but couldn’t move into range for a potential game-winning field goal.

For Dolegala, Saturday’s loss and the losing streak were painfully agonizing.

“I mean, it's brutal, to be honest. We ran it for a while there and it just felt like nothing would really go our way,” said Dolegala. “It was a combination of a lot of things. Each game was different but, in some aspects, felt the same. It just was not good enough football.”

Veteran linebacker Larry Dean, who posted back-to-back seasons of 100 or more tackles for the Riders, tried to express the disappointment of he and his teammates.

“We don't have a seat at the table. That's the end goal, just to have a chip in a chair but we don't have either so that's always disappointing, especially in back-to-back seasons," said Dean.

"We worked so hard, diligently, every day, true professionals showing up and just don't get the end result and that's always upsetting."

The Argos improved to 15-2-0 with the victory and now have an opportunity to leave a legacy by posting the best regular-season record in franchise history. The Argos posted 15-3-0 records in both 1996 and 1997. If they beat the Ottawa Redblacks in the regular season finale on Oct. 28, the Argos will finish with a 16-2-0 record.

Trailing for the majority of the game, Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie praised his players for finding a way to win in the fourth quarter.

“We allowed them a lot of yards early on with some big windows that they were throwing into. They hit the one screen for, I think, for 50 yards. Those things we can’t have but, in the end, they made the plays they needed to. They really stepped up in the second half,” said Dinwiddie.

Dickenson’s contract expires at the end of the season and is facing an uncertain future with the Riders. In his post-game media conference, he accepted the responsibility for Saskatchewan’s struggles over the past two seasons.

“At the end of the day, it's all on me. Like I said a month ago, it was a different team than last season, but we didn't win any more games. We felt like the formula was to get a little better, character wise, and I felt we did," said the coach.

"We tried to put a little more emphasis on the offensive line, which I felt like we did, but it didn't translate into wins. So, at the end of the day, this season was a failure. We didn't get to where we wanted to which was get in the playoffs and compete for a championship. We weren't able to do that.”

Three Argos also hit personal milestones Saturday. Running back OJ Ouellette gained 50 yards on 11 carries, giving him 1,009 rushing yards on the season. DaVaris Daniels had six receptions for 84 yards to push him over the 1,000-yard mark. He now has 1,009 yards receiving.

Quarterback Chad Kelly played the first three quarters, completed 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Kelly eclipsed the 4,000-yards passing plateau and now sits at 4,092 yards for the season.

Ouellette and Damonte Coxie also scored touchdowns for the Argos. Kicker Alfredo Gauchuz Lozada kicked three field goals.

The Riders got big games from Dolegala, Shawn Bane Jr. and Samuel Emilus. Dolegala was 29 of 44 passing for 436 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Bane Jr., who signed with the Riders during the off-season as a free agent, completed an outstanding season with eight receptions for 136 yards. He finished the season with 1,104 yards. Emilus caught seven passes for 137 yards and also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season, finishing with 1,097 yards.

Bane Jr., Emilus and Antonio Pipkin had touchdowns for Saskatchewan with kicker Brett Lauther chipping in two field goals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2023.

Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press