Welcome to a west-side story.
A total of 2,882 onlookers — 2,118 fewer than would have been allowable, per COVID-19 precautions — occupied Mosaic Stadium‘s west grandstand Saturday for the most meaningful controlled scrimmage in Saskatchewan Roughriders history.
The Green and White game, as uneventful as it was, marked a welcome return to on-field combat for the Roughriders following a protracted COVID-induced intermission.
And the highlight of it all was … (wait for it) … the punter.
Regina-born Jon Ryan launched punts into the stratosphere, averaging 54.2 yards per boot (according to this scribbler’s calculations).
Ryan’s performance was indicative of the degree to which the offence struggled under the direction of quarterbacks Cody Fajardo, Isaac Harker, Tom Flacco, Mason Fine and Paxton Lynch.
Collectively, they completed 28 of 43 passes for 258 yards and nary a touchdown. Fajardo, Fine and Lynch were intercepted.
The two longest gains of the day belonged to Paul McRoberts, who had receptions of 28 and 20 yards.
University of Regina Rams product Mitch Picton was the busiest receiver, with five catches for 58 yards.
The longest rush by a non-quarterback was an eight-yard scamper by Marcus Murphy. The running backs — Murphy, William Powell, Ralph Webb and Jamal Morrow — rushed a combined 11 times for 32 yards during a game of glorified touch football.
Despite the passive nature of the contest, defensive tackle Garrett Marino looked like a terror.
A.J. Hendy, a candidate to play strong-side linebacker, performed as advertised after a strong camp.
And … ummmm … did we mention the punter?
Overall, it was more like a Groan and White game — one that was devoid of touchdowns, explosive plays or, well, virtually anything that we have come to love about the Canadian Football League.
But it was a magnificent spectacle all the same.
Football, at last!
Something resembling sweet normalcy.
Gainer. The MaxTron. Sitting next to Murray McCormick in the press box. Really, what more could anyone want from life?
The contest began at 3 p.m., and peaked about 30 minutes earlier when I drove northwards on Elphinstone Street, turned left at the exhibition grounds, and was treated to the sight of (gasp!) green-clad fans flocking toward the main entrance of Mosaic Stadium for the first time since Nov. 17, 2019.
That afternoon, the first-place Roughriders played host to the third-seeded Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Division final — won 20-13 by the visitors.
With Fajardo, the franchise quarterback, hampered by torn oblique muscles, the Roughriders failed to score a touchdown — notice a trend here? — and ended up losing a heartbreaker.
On the Roughriders’ final play of any description for nearly 600 days, Fajardo looked into the south end zone, saw receiver Kyran Moore, and let loose with a pass that hit an upright.
The ball fell to the ground, as did a disconsolate Fajardo.
It was a long, interminable wait until Saturday’s scrimmage.
The highlight: Just being there. Film at 11.
“It feels so good to be back,” Lisa Schwann, who attended the game with her son Mike, said shortly before Saturday’s opening kickoff.
“Our seats are roped off. They are three rows behind the Rider bench, but we are sitting in our section in Row 5. It feels really good to see our Rider family that has sat with us for 40 years sitting with us!
“The facility looks fantastic and we are looking forward to today’s game and opening day.”
Lisa checked in again following the contest.
“It felt great to sing the national anthem with Rider Nation and to belt out ‘The Last Saskatchewan Pirate’ to kick off the fourth quarter,” she said.
“The maintenance crew made sure everything was sanitized. We felt very safe and excited to cheer on the Green and White.”
The next such opportunity will arise Aug. 6, when Saskatchewan opens its 2021 season against the visiting B.C. Lions.
The Roughriders have saved their traditional “Bring ’Em Out” player-introduction routine for that occasion.
Presumably, they have saved some touchdowns as well.
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