Regina, SK (SportsNetwork.com) - The hottest team in the CFL coming out of the gate in 2013 finds itself competing in the West Division Semifinals on Sunday afternoon, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders entertain the British Columbia Lions at Mosaic Stadium.
Catch the game on TSN starting at 4pm et/1pm pt.
Saskatchewan kicked off the campaign with five straight victories and wins in eight of its first nine games, but then the Riders hit more than a few stumbling blocks which included a four-game slide and back-to-back defeats to close out the regular season, which is why they are playing this weekend and not enjoying added time to prepare for the division final.
The Lions, who were immediately in chase mode as they tried to catch up to Saskatchewan, managed to produce a couple of three-game win streaks this year and also posted consecutive triumphs in the final weeks in order to match the Riders' record overall. The Lions will be without MLB Solomon Elimimian, who did not make the trip with a leg injury.
Last season, BC was the clear-cut, regular-season leader with a 13-5 record, winning the West Division by a game over Calgary, while the Roughriders finished two games below .500, but because the bottom teams in the East Division were worse than the rest of the teams in the league, Saskatchewan was given entrance into the postseason where it bowed to the Stampeders in the semifinals by a score of 36-30.
With Calgary advancing to the division finals in 2012, the Lions ended up having their hands full and eventually suffered a 34-29 loss at home.
With regard to success in the playoffs over the years, more specifically each team's response to playing in the Grey Cup, the Roughriders have had the worst luck of any active club in that title tilt over the years. Saskatchewan has appeared in a total of 18 Grey Cups, but taken home the prestigious trophy a mere three times. The last of those championships came in 2007 when the team topped Winnipeg at Rogers Centre, 23-19.
Saskatchewan has appeared in the championship game two times since winning it all, but in 2009 the Riders suffered a narrow 28-27 setback to Montreal and then a year later it was the same story versus the Alouettes, this time being a 21-18 final.
British Columbia has appeared in the fewest Grey Cup Championships of any of the current eight league members, only 10, but still the Lions have twice as many trophies as the Roughriders. It was just two years ago that the Lions posted a 34-23 win over Winnipeg in their home stadium, BC Place.
This year the challenge might be a bit bigger for the Lions, seeing as how they fielded their third different starting quarterback of the season in their final outing, a 26-7 victory over visiting Calgary on Nov. 1. In that contest, Buck Pierce took the field for the Lions, although so did Thomas DeMarco and Travis Lulay, even though there really was nothing left to play for with the playoff picture already set. Lulay will get the start against the Roughriders.
While there was some uncertainty at quarterback for the Lions this season, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to find that the squad ranked next-to- last in the league with just 4,408 passing yards and produced an efficiency rating of 88.4.
Over on the other side, Darian Durant was one of the most reliable passers as far as durability was concerned, starting all but two games, one of which was the season finale. Durant may have had some trouble with overall accuracy at times, but in the final tally he still led the league with 31 passing TDs, against just 12 INTs.
In addition to having a solid passer orchestrating the offense for the Riders, the defense was also something to behold as it led the league in points allowed at 22.1 ppg.
In terms of their matchups during the 2013 regular season, these teams played a total of three times, all within a span of just five weeks between Sept. 22 and Oct. 19, with the Roughriders posting back-to-back victories after dropping the first encounter by a mere two points, 24-22. The latest triumph was a lopsided 35-14 final at home for a Saskatchewan team that scored 21 points in the second quarter and 31 in the first half in order to pull away for the comfortable victory.
The team that survives this battle will be back in action next week against Calgary in the West Division Finals, for the right to take part in the 101st Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium later this month.