Touchdown Atlantic ended in a less than ideal way for the Saskatchewan Roughriders just a week ago. Despite holding the lead with under three minutes to play, a Cody Fajardo interception was run back for a touchdown by Wynton McManis, scoring the winning points for the Toronto Argonauts. With redemption on their minds in week seven, the Riders were dealt another crippling blow; a COVID-19 outbreak that has knocked some of their starters, and even backups, out of the lineup.
Without either of Fajardo or Mason Fine at practice for the past handful of days, the Roughriders have no choice but to turn to a rookie quarterback, Jake Dolegala. Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson could have held his cards close to his chest and kept the Argonauts guessing, but on Friday afternoon, he showed his hand, naming Dolegala his starter.
“I would say that I’m not sure, but I don’t think anyone would believe me,” said Dickenson, later shared by Britton Gray. “So yes, Jake [Dolegala] will be our starter.”
The decision comes after neither Fajardo nor Fine have seen the field all week, neither taking a single rep since their game in Wolfville, Nova Scotia last week. It’s still up in the air who will back Dolegala up when the balls start flying on Sunday, but that should come in the next day or two.
“Nope, they both [didn’t practice],” Dickensen said, referring to Fajardo and Fine. “Hopefully we’ll get them both out here tomorrow. We’ll have to decide who the backup is, but as of now, it’s Dolegala and then whoever of [Fajardo and Fine] who is ready to go.”
The question on everyone’s mind right now is what can the Riders possibly do with Dolegala taking snaps for them in the rematch against the Argonauts? With plenty of fans seriously suggesting the Roughriders forfeit the game, evidently, the common thought is not much. But this is the CFL, and it might not be entirely hopeless, and even if it is, there are hundreds of reasons why the Riders wouldn’t want to forfeit this one.
First, what do the Roughriders have with Dolegala? We won’t know what exactly they are dealing with until he gets some reps in live action, but we have seen him in limited action in the preseason. In his two games, he completed 15 of his 21 passes for 147 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. The numbers are respectable, and they show at least a baseline level of competence for the 25-year-old, but playing against the backups to the backups is a different battle when compared to playing a team’s starters.
While he never got game action during the regular season, Dolegala has seen a fair amount of time with various NFL clubs, including Cincinnati Bengals, two stints with the New England Patriots, two stints with the Green Bay Packers, and the Miami Dolphins. The six-foot-seven pivot has a cannon for an arm, so the wider Canadian field shouldn’t be an issue for him. If the pocket breaks down, don’t expect him to get out and run, however.
There is hope that Dolegala could eventually become something in the CFL, and there are reasons to like what he has shown so far, but this will be a different beast to tame. If there’s anything going for him, it’s the general lack of film available, and that could allow him to surprise the Argonauts’ defence with a couple of things.
What kind of game we get from Dolegala is only part of the equation, however. He could turn in the best game a quarterback has played this season, but what he’s working with is going to come into play. Many of the Roughriders’ big names are listed as questionable, or even out, including Duke Williams who was suspended for one game after swinging a helmet at an Argonauts’ player before their game last week. Without Williams and a slew of other players on offence and defence, who can step up, or will anyone be able to step up?
We don’t yet know who will or won’t be in the lineup for the Riders as of yet, but we do know that they will be down at least a few regulars. They will certainly not be at their best, but how many times have we seen a matchup this season where the favourite is expected to run away with the game, and then they don’t? Games around the CFL have been close this season, and that’s all the Roughriders need to do. If they keep it close into the fourth quarter, who knows what could happen?
It’s probably not a wise idea to bet your house on a Roughriders win, and the numbers would tell you that this should end with an Argonauts’ blowout, but they play the games for a reason. If absolutely nothing else for the Roughriders, this will force some young players to play big roles, and it’s going to be a real test. You’re pushing them into the deep end, and they are either going to sink or swim.
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