Friday October 31, 2014

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Rider Insider

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That was amazing!

I thought we'd hit the peak of intensity when the Roughriders walked into Winnipeg and stole a 23-17 victory two weeks ago.

But that had nothing on Saskatchewan's Week 9 CFL game in Vancouver Sunday afternoon.

It was hyped as the game of the week and B.C. Lions President Dennis Skulsky threw gas on the fire by guaranteeing a win by his team three days in advance. I'm told Skulsky was "salty" regarding the Riders purchasing a billboard outside B.C. Place Stadium and throwing a pregame pep rally attended by some 800 members of the Rider Nation. He took it as an affront, as did his players, but in the end the guarantee was hollow.

As you all know by now, Tino Sunseri came in at halftime to replace injured starting quarterback Darian Durant and engineered the game-winning touchdown drive which culminated with a touchdown pass to heralded tightend Dan Clark who made a "Tony Champion-style" catch in the endzone. The final score was 20-16 Riders.

While the Riders said very little publicly about Skulsky's guarantee leading up to the game, it was a raging fire within their locker room before the clash. So much so that Rider coach Corey Chamblin posted several posters around the locker room with Skulsky's boastful quote along with a photo of the Lions head honcho.

Then they shoved it down their throats.

"We talked a lot about the guarantee," admitted a defiant Chamblin after the game. "I'm sure they thought in the first half it was guaranteed but you have to guarantee four quarters."

And the pesky Riders, remarkably and somewhat mystifyingly, continue to find ways to win. No one's burning out light bulbs on scoreboards across the CFL these days but Saskatchewan is just getting it done by giving every ounce of energy they have on every play. In doing so, they've upped their record to 6-2 and are within striking distance of first-place as we near the turn.

"This team - I'll you what - we're building our meddle and character," Chamblin continued. "We're learning how to win in tough environments. We talked about we had to fight through all adversity early. We knew B.C. would have some new things for us.

"It's like a boxing match; we felt each other out and eventually we got it figured out."

Tino Sunseri seemed as surprised as anyone to be taking over the game to start the third quarter but he settled in like a seasoned veteran and the game-winning touchdown drive was smashmouth.

"We actually didn't know I was going in till we went out for the second half," Sunseri revealed. "Darian couldn't grip the ball. Coach Cortez told me I was going in. We put a lot of time in in quarterbacks and offensive meetings. We were prepared. It was a total team win."

When Sunseri showed up for the team's Florida minicamp in April, he had a fire in his eyes which we'd never seen before. For much of his rookie campaign in 2013, it was more of a "deer in the headlights" look but he's been preparing to get this opportunity and he made the most of it.

"You've been around me enough to know I'm a very confident individual," Sunseri smiled. "We put the work in throughout the week and we grind. We're confident and we know we can make plays and put us in position to win a game."

So what does a win like this do for a team? A lot. And this group is so much different from the 2013 Riders. A lot of the same players remain but there are many new faces as well. They've come together, it seems, far stronger than at any point last season (save for the playoffs).

And this steely post-game comment by defensive lineman Trevor Guyton best exemplifies what this team has going on right now.

"He picked the wrong team to make a guarantee against."

(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)


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