REGINA — Circumstances may be strange, but Jake Dolegala isn’t about to pass up the opportunity to be the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starting quarterback.
It’s been a tough week for the Roughriders, who host the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed as the Saskatchewan locker room handled a number of COVID-19 cases following last week’s game in Halifax.
Runners starter Cody Fajardo, who is struggling with a knee injury, will miss Sunday’s game due to COVID while backup Mason Fine, who has also been following COVID protocol, will be a game-time decision.
That leaves Dolegala making his first professional start on Sunday. After not getting dressed for the first six games of the season, the 6-foot-7, 242-pound Dolegala is excited to step onto the court.
“I just can’t wait for the opportunity to get out there and play the game I love. That’s really what it’s all about,” said 25-year-old Dolegala. “However we got here, it’s an opportunity for me to play and I’m looking forward to it.”
Although Dolegala gained some playing experience during the preseason, he was limited to practice rehearsals once the regular season began.
Hot on the heels of a 30-24 loss to the Argonauts (2-2) on July 16 in Halifax, the Riders (4-2) trust a quarterback who came to the CFL this season after bouncing back around the National Football League for three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins.
Dolegala arrived before training camp to work with Riders offensive coordinator Jason Maas, who tailored Sunday’s game plan for the rookie.
“He knows my strengths and he kind of adapted the game plan to my type of game. I really appreciate that,” Dolegala said. “It’s not much different from what we normally do because I had to adjust my game to our offense, but I mean, it’s a passing league. It is what it is and I like to think of myself as a setter. It’s gonna be fun.”
Runners head coach Craig Dickenson has realistic expectations for Dolegala.
“I just expect him to run the game. You know, no time violation, get the guys in and out of the group. If we have a negative play, move on,” Dickenson said. Do what he’s done all year in training, distribute the football, try to play in rhythm and take care of the ball.”
Saskatchewan will miss 10 regulars from its roster, with offense the hardest hit. In addition to starting the untested Dolegala, the Roughriders plan to dress five receivers with Kian Schaffer-Baker being the only regular starter in the mix.
On defense, there are two changes in the backfield and two on the defensive line, but two of the replacements – defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and defensive back Nelson Lokombo – have seen regular action this season.
Dickenson believes the Riders are underdogs this weekend, but he thinks his players are ready to take on Toronto.
“I’m sure we’re the underdogs in this game, but we’ve got 45 guys and they’ve got 45. So we’re going to come in here and play hard,” Dickenson said. “We expect to be competitive and if we make a few plays we could win it.”
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (2-2) VS SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (4-2)
Sunday, Mosaic Stadium
OFF AND RUNNING: Schaffer-Baker leads the CFL in yards after receiving (YAC). Schaffer-Baker caught 32 passes for 370 yards with 201 YAC. Calgary’s Malik Henry is second in the league with 196 YAC.
SACK ATTACK: Toronto recorded five sacks in last week’s win over Saskatchewan, who lead the CFL with 23 sacks in six games. The Argos have 10 sacks in four games. Saskatchewan defensive tackle Pete Robertson, currently out with a broken foot, leads the league with seven sacks.
IN THE SIN BIN: Saskatchewan’s Garrett Marino and Duke Williams will both miss Sunday’s game due to suspensions. This is the second game of a four-game suspension for Marino for his play in the July 8 win over the Ottawa Redblacks. Williams was suspended for one game for his role in a pre-game fracas with Toronto’s Shaquille Richardson in last week’s Touchdown Atlantic game.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press