Even though he has every reason to, Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Mason Fine is determined not to be overwhelmed when he makes his first CFL start Saturday against the Calgary Stampeders.
It’s challenging enough stepping in for veteran Cody Fajardo, which resulted in a firestorm of controversy this week among the passionate Rider Nation fan base, but the 25-year-old pivot is also dealing with the additional stress brought on by the Riders' 2-9 record in their last 11 games. The late-season futility has put the club's playoff chances in serious doubt.
Despite all that, Fine believes he has a grasp on the situation and is in a position to succeed.
“You’ve got to have a great balance. You have to know how big of a game it is but you also can't put too much pressure on yourself,” said Fine, who is in his second season with the Riders. “I'm going to be the player I am. I'm going to be the leader and the teammate that I am and I’m going to go out there and play my game and let the cards fall where they may.”
In 16 career games, Fine has completed 53.6 per cent of his pass attempts. In four games this season, all in relief of Fajardo, he has connected on 28 of 42 passes for 326 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. The Riders lost all four of those games.
Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson feels that two seasons as Fajardo’s backup has prepared Fine for his first start.
“We don't feel like Mason is a rookie. He's been with us for two years now, he's played quite a bit in pre-season and he's taken a lot of reps in practice,” said Dickenson. “It's going to be a learning curve for sure but he's played a lot of football in his life and we feel like he's going to go out and do a good job.”
Dickenson debated making the change at quarterback during the recent bye week and came to the decision that Fine would give the Riders the best chance in the final two games.
Fajardo, who took over the Riders starting job on June 20, 2019, did not agree with the decision.
“I was upset. I was frustrated. I just felt like we have a good opportunity, that we’re still not quite out of it,” said Fajardo on Wednesday after Dickenson confirmed the QB change. “I felt like last over the last couple of games I wish we scored more points but in terms of playing capabilities, I felt like I laid everything on the line. I'm going to continue to do that for the next two weeks and see what happens.”
The Riders, who have lost their last five home games, are currently tied with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (6-10) for the third and final playoff spot in the East Division, though Hamilton has the tiebreaker by virtue of the crossover rule.
The Riders finish the season with a home-and-home series with the Stampeders while the Ticats complete their season with a similar two-game set with the Ottawa Redblacks. To qualify for the playoffs, the Riders must sweep the Stamps while Hamilton must lose at least one game to Ottawa.
LEMON MAKING HIS MARK: Stampeders defensive end Shawn Lemon is making a charge to be the league leader in sacks. Lemon has 13 sacks, two behind Ottawa’s Lorenzo Maudlin. The 34-year-old Lemon is one sack shy of matching his career high of 14 set in 2016 with Toronto.
SANKEY PUTTING UP BIG NUMBERS: Riders linebacker Darnell Sankey leads the CFL in defensive tackles with 104. Sankey, who signed with the Riders in the off-season after playing last year in Calgary, is 14 defensive tackles shy of David Albright’s team record of 118 set in 1987.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2022.