Vanstone: Poll placing is small solace for U of R Rams


Robservations …

• Ordinarily, the 10th-ranked football team in U Sports would be immersed in preparation for the playoffs. However, this week’s No. 10 position is occupied by the University of Regina Rams, whose 3-5 record placed them fifth in the six-team Canada West conference. The top four teams advanced to the playoffs, which are to begin this weekend. A five-game losing streak left the Rams at 1-5 before they concluded the regular season with back-to-back lopsided victories over playoff-bound teams — results that obviously influenced the eyebrow-raising poll placing.

• The U of R outscored the opposition (211-189) over eight games. Two playoff-bound teams actually allowed more points than they scored — namely the University of Alberta Golden Bears (179-208) and University of Manitoba Bisons (221-242), both of whom lost convincingly to Regina late in the regular season.

• The poll results — little consolation to the Rams — demonstrate that the youthful team is making meaningful strides under head coach Steve Bryce. Their quarterback, Josh Donnelly, threw four touchdown passes in the regular-season finale. And he has four seasons of eligibility remaining. Foundational players such as Donnelly, Bennett Stusek, Jaxon Ford, Josh White, Ryder Varga and Riley Boersma ensure that the Rams will be a top-10 fixture in the years ahead … and even a playoff participant.


• Profuse apologies to fans and employees of the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a prediction that I uttered during the latest edition of “The Waggle,” a podcast hosted by Donnovan Bennett and Davis Sanchez. I was asked for a Grey Cup forecast and, yes, I chose Saskatchewan to defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL’s championship game on Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium. The Roughriders have overcome various forms of adversity this season, but can they survive the dreaded Vanstone Curse?

• As was discussed with Donnovan and Davis, the dream matchup for the 107th Grey Cup would feature the Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes — colliding once again in a championship game, played in Calgary, 10 years after the 13th-man unravelling. The stories and columns would write themselves (ideally without predictions).

• One more reference to the unluckiest number: If the Roughriders clinch first place on Saturday, they will finish with 13 victories for the first time since the CFL expanded the regular season to 18 games per team in 1986.

• Shameless self-promotion: I appeared on “The Waggle” to discuss my latest book, “100 Things Roughriders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” This 300-page paperback, published by Triumph Books, should be widely available in early November.

• Could the Roughriders overcome the dreaded first-place curse? Saskatchewan has won only one of its four championships after capturing top spot in the West. Even in 1966, when Saskatchewan placed first en route to capturing CFL laurels, the Ottawa Rough Riders were the dominant regular-season team. The Roughriders subsequently finished first in 1968 (when they didn’t reach the Grey Cup), 1969 (lost 29-11 to Ottawa in the Grey Cup), 1970 (a 14-2 Roughriders team lost to the Calgary Stampeders in a controversial Western Conference final at a frozen Taylor Field), 1976 (Tony Gabriel) and 2009 (13th man).


Cody Fajardo‘s 45-yard completion to Shaq Evans during the second quarter on Saturday, when the Roughriders downed the host Edmonton Eskimos 27-24, offered a reminder of a key play that was not executed 15 days earlier. On Saskatchewan’s first possession during an Oct. 11 game in Calgary, Evans scorched a would-be defender with a double move and was wide open down the right sideline for what should have been a touchdown, only to be overthrown ever so slightly. On Saturday, the Roughriders ran the same play — once again turning a defensive back into a contorted non-factor — but celebrated a significant gain. Fajardo appeared to take something off the ball in order to prevent a recurrence of Oct. 11.

• Evans’ 1,320 receiving yards are the most by a Roughrider since Andy Fantuz registered 1,380 in 2010.

• Last season, the Roughriders had 22 completions of 30-plus yards. Evans, by himself, has 15 such receptions (a league high) in 2019. He led the team with six 30-plus-yarders last season.


• The Regina Pats are once again enduring a challenging season, as was to be expected. The rebuilding process, following championship chases in 2017 and 2018, was inevitable, as were the growing pains. But there are still reminders of why the Pats are a jewel in our sporting community. Consider the WHL Prairie Classic — Sunday’s outdoor game between the Pats and Calgary Hitmen. It was actually a better game than Saturday’s NHL Heritage Classic, in which the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Calgary Flames 2-1 in overtime. Plus, the Pats played in front of 15,000-some spectators at a football stadium. Who could have imagined such a day?

• Nice people who deserve a plug: Allison Bamford, Derek Putz, Ian Hamilton, Jamie Nye, Greg (Wheels) Moore, Donnovan Bennett, Davis Sanchez, Dennis Beyak, Murat Ates, Brian Munz, Paul Edmonds, Bart Gessner, Courtney Wagner and Jonah Glas.




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