REGINA — With Trevor Harris entrenched as the Saskatchewan Roughriders starting quarterback, Saturday’s 30-27 CFL pre-season victory over the B.C. Lions did little to separate the three pivots battling for the backup spot.
Mason Fine, Jake Dolegala and Shea Patterson combined to go 30 of 41 passing for 284 yards and three touchdowns as the Riders earned their first pre-season victory since June 14, 2014, when they defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 21-17.
The Riders trailed 20-9 in the third quarter and 27-17 in the fourth quarter before Fine connected with Mitchell Picton on two touchdown tosses to claim the victory.
Fine took over from Patterson in the fourth quarter and got off to a rough start. On his first pass attempt, B.C. linebacker Ryder Varga intercepted the effort and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown. Varga, a former University of Regina Ram, put the Lions up 27-17 with the touchdown.
Fine bounced back in the next series, capping a drive with a four-yard scoring pass to Picton. Kaare Vedvik missed the convert, with B.C. holding a 27-23 lead.
That set the stage for Fine’s second TD toss with 2:44 left in the game, giving the Riders their first lead since the second quarter.
Fine wasn’t pleased with the pick six but he wasn’t about to let the setback stop him from showing he belongs in the Saskatchewan quarterback conversation.
“It was the worst thing that possibly could’ve happened. I was done for a minute but I’ve got great teammates and coaches.
"They came over and picked me up and then it was a case of resetting, getting the mentality back and going out there and slamming the ball,” said Fine, who finished 8-of-10 passing for 110 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“That’s what I’ve done in the past. I’m going to sling it and whatever happens, happens. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but it was great to finish like that.”
Fine could’ve played conservatively for the rest of the game after the interception but that’s just not his way.
“You have to stay confident in yourself. You have to trust in your teammates and that the coaches put you in the right situation. You don’t want to press to much because then you’ll make another mistake but you also don’t want to be timid and not taking the shots that you should be taking,” said Fine.
Fine also admitted that he focused on Picton on the second touchdown pass.
“On that last play, I was looking at Mitch. I trust Mitch. He’s going to be in the right position to make plays and he’s the smartest guy on the football field."
With Harris at his home in Marion, Ohio, for the birth of his third child — Tripp Harris was born Thursday — Dolegala got the start on Saturday. Playing all but the final series of the first half, Dolegala impressed with both his arm and his legs, completing 12 of 17 passes for 97 yards while scrambling for a couple of first downs.
He believes the victory demonstrated the determination and dedication of the Riders heading into the season.
“The coach (Craig Dickenson) told us it’s been nine years, that’s pretty wild. But we were nothing but excited. It was huge. I think our team is really close and it showed out there with our little celebration,” said Dolegala.
While Fine, Dolegala and Patterson understand that one of them is going to be released in the coming days, all three were obviously happy for each other following the victory.
“I’m their biggest fan. It was great to see both go out there and ball. We all had some struggles but we bounced back and that was awesome,” said Dolegala, who scored on a one-yard run in the second quarter.
“It’s definitely a battle,” added Patterson, who completed 10-of-14 passes for 77 yards and one touchdown. “It’s got to be tough, and it’s got to be exciting for pretty much every other coach. Whatever happens, well, we’re all going to have a home and a place to play.”
Neither team dressed its starting quarterback. Dominique Davis and Dane Evans alternated series for the Lions through the first three quarters as starter Vernon Adams Jr. had the night off. Judd Erickson took over with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Evans was 13 of 16 passing for 162 yards and one TD while Davis was four of 10 for 77 yards and one interception.
Kendall Watson was Saskatchewan’s top receiver, catching six passes for 62 yards. Ayden Eberhart had a fantastic game for the Lions, grabbing six passes for 104 yards.
In addition to Harris sitting out, the Riders didn’t dress a number of veterans, including running backs Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson, receivers Jake Weineke, Derel Walker and Mario Alford, defensive linemen Anthony Lanier Jr. and Micah Johnson and linebacker Larry Dean.
Sitting out for the Lions were receivers Lucky Whitehead and Dominique Rhymes, defensive lineman Mathieu Betts, linebacker Bo Lokombo and defensive backs Garry Peters and Marcus Sayles.
The Lions will host the Calgary Stampeders on Thursday, while the Riders will travel to Winnipeg to take on the Blue Bombers on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2023.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press