Riders looking to finish regular season on winning note

Ricky Foley can’t wait for the start of the CFL playoffs to begin but not at the expense of looking past the Edmonton Eskimos. Foley and the Saskatchewan Roughriders conclude their regular season Saturday hosting Edmonton. Win or lose, the Riders (11-6) have already clinched second in the West Division — and will host B.C. in the conference semifinal Nov. 17 — while the Eskimos (3-14) are destined to finish last.

Ricky Foley can’t wait for the start of the CFL playoffs to begin but not at the expense of looking past the Edmonton Eskimos.

Foley and the Saskatchewan Roughriders conclude their regular season Saturday hosting Edmonton. Win or lose, the Riders (11-6) have already clinched second in the West Division — and will host B.C. in the conference semifinal Nov. 17 — while the Eskimos (3-14) are destined to finish last.

But the contest has meaning for both teams.

Saskatchewan is coming off a bitter 29-25 road loss to Calgary (14-3), which cemented first in the West for the Stampeders. Heading into the post-season having dropped two straight games would be hardly ideal for the Riders.

While there’s no playoff date for Edmonton, for many of its players this will be the final opportunity to make a favourable impression, either with the Eskimos or other CFL teams, for next year.

“We can’t look past Edmonton,” Foley said.

“If you look past Edmonton and start gameplanning for and worrying about B.C. you’re going to get your head kicked in by Edmonton.

“Those guys are playing for jobs and those coaches are gameplanning for jobs. They’re going to come in here hungry. We also don’t want to be on a two-game losing streak going into the playoffs, that wouldn’t be very good.”

Despite its struggles, Edmonton boasts some solid offensive threats. Quarterback Mike Reilly, in his first season as a CFL starter, has throw for 4,157 yards and 24 TDs while running for 649 yards — tops among quarterbacks — and is averaging 8.4 yards per rush.

The Eskimos also boast the CFL’s top receiver in slotback Fred Stamps, who has 68 catches for a league-best 1,259 yards and 11 TDs.

“Offensively they’ve got some playmakers,” Foley said. “Obviously Fred Stamps is special but the quarterback, man, he’s just a football player.

“I’ve got so much respect for Mike Reilly. He’s a guy I’ve hit a lot this year but he gets up, he doesn’t complain to his O-line and being a vet I’ve got a lot of respect for that kind of player. He’s going to be a good player in this league.”

The six-foot-two, 258-pound Foley joined the Riders as a free agent last off-season after helping the Toronto Argonauts win the 100th Grey Cup game in November at Rogers Centre. With this year’s CFL title game being played at Mosaic Stadium, Saskatchewan is attempting to become the third straight team to win the Grey Cup on home soil — B.C. also did it in 2011.

Foley, 31, of Courtice, Ont., has flourished in Regina with eight sacks after registered nine over three seasons in Toronto.

The eight-year veteran is enjoying his best CFL campaign since a career-best 12 sacks in ’09 with B.C. that earned him the league’s top Canadian award that year.

But it’s been a season of streaks for Saskatchewan, which opened the 2013 campaign with five straight wins before a 42-27 road loss to Calgary on Aug. 9. After reeling off three consecutive victories the Riders lost 25-13 to Winnipeg.

That was the start of four straight losses before a 31-17 road victory in Vancouver that began a three-game losing streak. Then came last weekend’s heart-breaking loss to the Stampeders at McMahon Stadium.

“I thought we had a pretty good effort in Calgary,” Foley said. “They’re the best team in the league record-wise but I think we had the opportunity to beat them and should’ve beat them and you can take a little bit of positive from that.

“Obviously guys are disappointed about not being able to win first place but we have to get this one this week and when B.C. comes in here be on a roll.”

The Riders-Stampeders’ rivalry this season has been intense, on and off the field. Saskatchewan’s Kory Sheets helped pour gasoline on the fire recently by publicly stating he was a better running back than Calgary’s Jon Cornish, the CFL rushing leader.

Sheets topped the rushing race midway through the season before suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss three games. Cornish, who was second overall behind Sheets at the time, stormed into the lead and hasn’t looked back since.

But Foley said in an eight-team league where clubs play one another often, animosity is bound to build up.

“When you play a team that much and it’s the two top dogs in the division it’s going to be intense,” he said. “It’s like a playoff series in hockey when you see a team that much and that frequently in such a short period of time there’s going to be a lot of built-up anger towards those guys.

“But that makes it fun. It’s good for the league, it’s good for the fans and it’s fun for us players.”

Once the playoffs begin, Foley said discipline will be key for the Riders.

“I think that’s going to be the biggest thing,” he said. “There also has to be good leadership going into the playoffs.

“Without question, we’ve got the talent to do what we want to do but the leadership has to be there, the discipline has to be there and we can’t beat ourselves. We do that I think we’ll be fine.”

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