REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders have a golden opportunity to lock down first place in the CFL’s West Division on Saturday, but they will most likely be without starting quarterback Cody Fajardo.
Fajardo, who was recently named Saskatchewan’s nominee as Most Outstanding Player, suffered an oblique injury during Wednesday’s practice and will be a game-time decision when the 12-5-0 Roughriders host the 8-9-0 Edmonton Eskimos in the regular season finale.
“If the game was today, I wouldn’t be able to play,” said Farjardo on Friday afternoon.
Fajardo, who leads the CFL with 4,302 passing yards this season, described the injury as “pretty significant” and described the pain as “pretty tremendous.” He’s thrown for 18 touchdown passes since taking over from Zach Collaros, who was sidelined with a concussion in the season opener. Fajardo has also rushed for 10 touchdowns.
The Riders can clinch first in the West, along with a bye to the conference final, with a victory over the Eskimos or a Calgary Stampeders loss to the B.C. Lions on Saturday. If the Stampeders win and the Riders lose, Saskatchewan will fall to second place and would host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West semifinal on Nov. 10.
The importance of the contest isn’t lost on Fajardo, but he’s not about to make an egotistical decision to play at all costs.
“If I’m close to 50 or 60 per cent, I’m out there on the field with my guys but I also don’t want to be selfish and go out there and do stuff that I can’t do and put the team in a bad situation when we have capable backups in (Isaac) Harker and (Bryan) Bennett that can get the job done,” said Fajardo.
“If I’m unable to go tomorrow, that doesn’t mean we’re going to lose this game. We have a really talented football team and everyone is going to see that tomorrow. I’m going to wake up, see how I feel and go from there.”
If Fajardo is unable to play, Harker will get the start with Bennett moving into the backup role. Harker, a 24-year-old rookie, has appeared in three games this season, completing 21 of 33 passes for 254 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Head coach Craig Dickenson is confident that Harker and Bennett are capable of filling in for Fajardo.
“We certainly don’t feel like we’re going to take a step back. We know Cody’s had a great year but if he doesn’t play, we have confidence in Isaac and Bryan,” said Dickenson. “We feel like with the guys around those quarterbacks that we should be effective, we should be productive and we should put points on the board regardless.”
The Eskimos, who will travel to Montreal to play the Alouettes on Nov. 10 in the East Division semifinal, have chosen to rest a number of their starters on Saturday, including quarterback Trevor Harris and receivers Ricky Collins Jr. and Greg Ellingson.
Dickenson said the Riders aren’t taking the Eskimos lightly, especially with a victory giving the Riders a bye next week.
“It’s important because at this time of year, everybody’s tired and everybody’s a little beat up. I’m think if you asked every team in the West for sure they’d all give their right arm to get that bye,” said Dickenson. “But that doesn’t guarantee anything more than playing the next week.
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (8-9-0) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (12-5-0)
Saturday, Mosaic Stadium
MAKING SOME HISTORY: Eskimos receiver Diego Viamontes will be the first Global player to start in a CFL game when he replaces Collins Jr. in the lineup on Saturday. Selected first overall by the Eskimos in the first-ever CFL-Liga de Futbol Americano Professional (LFA) draft in January, Viamontes made his CFL debut in Week 18 against the B.C. Lions.
ROUGHRIDERS BY THE NUMBERS: With a win on Saturday, Saskatchewan can post its highest win total (13) since 1970, the year it set the club record of 14. The Riders have only ever finished first and won the Grey Cup in the same year one time – that was in 1966 at 9-6-1.
MONCRIEF SITTING OUT: Riders linebacker Derrick Moncrief is on the 1-Game Injured List with a couple of nagging injuries. Moncrief has been outstanding this season, totalling 69 defensive tackles, four sacks and three interceptions. Defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy will replace Moncrief as the strongside linebacker.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019.