Man, Rider fans are fickle. Heading into the Hamilton game last Sunday hopes were high that Tino Sunseri, elevated from back-up to starter with the season-ending elbow injury to QB/team leader Darian Durant, would be able to manage the offence well enough to beat Hamilton.
That hope wasn’t entirely misguided. In two relief appearances this year, both on the road too, Sunseri has led the team to victory — overcoming a deficit against B.C. in August, and protecting a lead in the Banjo Bowl against Winnipeg. Against Hamilton, though, things did not go well. And the Riders fell 28-3.
Much gnashing of teeth ensued about Sunseri’s failure to live up to expectations. Yes, his stats were dismal. But the Riders were only down 13-3 until they gave up a punt return for a TD mid-way through the third quarter. And to recap. It was Sunseri’s first start, the game was on the road, against a team that is better than its now 4W-7L record would indicate. After being away from Hamilton for the last season and a third, the Ti-Cats are finally playing actual home games in their new stadium. That’s got to be a big morale boost. And Hamilton was the East representative in the Grey Cup last year.
On the Rider side, Will Ford (pictured in the team’s 38-14 win over the Redblacks in Ottawa Aug. 2), who is one-third of the three-headed monster the Riders typically deploy at running back, didn’t dress. Slotback Chris Getzlaf is battling an injury that’s kept him out of the line-up for stretches. Guard Chris Best is out too. And when he was hurt for most of the second half last season the Riders struggled on offence.
All I’m saying is that Rider Nation needs to put the loss in perspective. This game versus Ottawa, though, is a different matter. It’s at home, against a team that arguably isn’t better than its 1W-9L record would indicate — which I don’t mean as an insult to the Redblacks, it’s just the reality of being a CFL expansion club. And the fact is, the Riders need this game to reach 9W-3L. That’s because in the final six games they play the 8W-4L Eskimos three times (twice at home, once in Edmonton) and have a home-and-home with the 10W-1L Calgary Stampeders. Sandwiched in with the Battle Against Alberta is a Thanksgiving weekend tilt in Montreal against the improving Alouettes.
If the Riders win today, they’ll be two points up on Edmonton (who lost in Hamilton yesterday) and four points up on the Lions (who lost at home to the Argonauts on Friday). With three games upcoming against Edmonton, and B.C. holding the tie-breaker because they outpointed the Riders in the two games they played this year, that cushion will come in handy in the race for second and third in the CFL West and give them a big leg up over those two teams and 6W-6L Winnipeg for a likely crossover spot in the East semi-final.
For Sunseri, the pressure is definitely on for him to upgrade his performance. He doesn’t have to compete at the Calgary/Edmonton level yet, but he’s got to do better. And so do the rest of the Riders — especially the special teams, which have now surrendered kick returns for TDs in four out of the last five games.
Game time is 2 p.m. TSN has the broadcast from Mosaic Stadium, and you can find out more at the Riderville website.