Vanstone: Stay tuned for the “Weston” semi-final

Vanstone: Stay tuned for the \
Zach Collaros takes part in Riders practice
The Blue Bombers Weston Dressler is a link between Sundays game at Mosaic Stadium and the Riders previous home playoff game, in 2013.

At every Saskatchewan Roughriders home game, a loyal constituency of fans can be seen proudly wearing green jerseys bearing the number (7) and good name of Weston Dressler.

Now, for the final possible outcome that was wildly less plausible about a month ago, the defensive analyst for Coastal Carolina University being showered with confetti as he holds up the Grey Cup trophy. After retiring from the game in June, Drew Tate took a job lending his experiences as a quarterback to help the defensive coaching staff for Coastal Carolina. Thats quite a role reversal for the former Big-Ten Offensive Player of the Year (Need proof? Check out his LinkedIn account). I told you this is a unique team. Yes, the odds of Tate, who has been with the team for less than a week, having that sort of impact is slim, but with so much talent on the offensive line, defence and special teams, there is a roadmap for all this to happen.

“I just assumed all the 7’s had ‘Jefferson’ on the back of them now,” a chuckling Dressler, now of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, said Tuesday in reference to Roughriders defensive end Willie Jefferson. “He’s a pretty good player out there.

But what if Collaros isnt fully healthy from that Odell Willis hit? Then it gets really interesting! Brandon Bridge did not have the 2018 that he envisioned after nearly leading Saskatchewan over Toronto in the 2017 Eastern Final. As an Argonauts fan, I can tell you that he scared the hell out of us in that second half and, if not for a clutch third down conversion between Ricky Ray and James Wilder Jr., it would have been Bridge playing in last years Grey Cup. There is a very plausible reality that sees Bridge doing something that hasnt happened since Russ Jackson in 1969, a Canadian starting quarterback winning the Grey Cup.

“That connection with the fans will always be there for me. That mutual respect back and forth is pretty special. Obviously, some of the greatest fans in the world are out there. They’re always supporting their team and supporting their players. It’s something that I’ve never taken for granted and will always appreciate well after my time with football is done.”

Despite all of these offensive woes, the Riders still finished the year with the second best record in the league. That is not your traditional path to a 12-win season. The source of so many of their points has been well documented as Saskatchewan lapped the field in return touchdowns with 11 different players scoring a combined 15 touchdowns. Whether it be by punt, kickoff, fumble or interception, this team harnessed every ounce of athleticism and aggressive philosophy to beat its opponent. Chris Jones has put together an unconventional blueprint for winning and Im so curious to see how it works in the post-season.

Regardless of what Dressler accomplishes with the Bombers, he will always be associated with Saskatchewan. He was a phenomenally popular member of the Roughriders from 2008 to 2015, posting the first five of his six 1,000-yard seasons as a CFLer.

Saskatchewan went 12-6, nearly unseating Calgary as West Division Champions without much of an offence. No team in the West had a harder time scoring touchdowns than Chris Jones squad. They went the final four weeks without one passing touchdown and only registered three aerial scores against teams from the West. They jettisoned their top receiver in 2017 (Duron Carter) and didnt have a wideout finish in the top-15 in yardage. They love to punt, and even the Montreal Alouettes’ offence found the end zone more times than Saskatchewan.

He also helped the Roughriders win a home-field Grey Cup in 2013, catching a touchdown pass in a 45-23 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

For the time being, the 101st Grey Cup is the most-recent post-season game to have been played in Regina.

The five-year drought will be snapped Sunday, when the Roughriders play host to Dressler and the Bombers in the West Division semi-final.

If you live in Edmonton, Montreal or Toronto, who do you root for? You have no direct vested interest in the playoffs beyond hoping for entertaining contests. You have to pick someone, right? Since my team was officially eliminated in Week 2 after Calgary dummied them 41-7 in their home opener, I needed to adopt someone and theres no squad who is as fascinating as the Roughriders.

“It’s always a little different playing against the Riders, just because of the history that’s there,” said Dressler, 33, who signed with the Bombers in 2016 after being released by Saskatchewan for financial reasons.

Now the biggest reason to hop on the Roughriders’ bandwagon is if they win it all, we have no idea who will be the winning quarterback. It could be the former superstar who has been beat up as much, if not more, than any other quarterback. It could be a Canadian, or it could be a defensive analyst from Coastal Carolina University. Now that is some range!

“I’ll never forget all the things that we accomplished while I was there — the good times, the bad times.

Just so you know, Winnipeg, my official choice for the team Im rooting for has nothing to do with you but has everything to do with your opponent. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the most unorthodox and interesting team in the post-season, and for that reason I have picked them as my official playoff team.

“As far as the game itself goes, once the game gets going and you get into the game, I want to win just as badly no matter who we’re playing.

I would like to apologize to all Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans right off the top because youre not going to be happy. But just remember, Im the guy who wrote a couple weeks ago that Adam Bighill deserves to be right in the thick of the 2018 MOP conversation. Does that buy me any good will? Probably not.

“I really enjoy being a part of the Blue Bombers right now, the organization, and the guys we have in the locker room right now, who I’m having a blast with. I want to hopefully come out with a win for those guys just as much as anything else.”

Zach Collaros has had his moments, but the Riders have found other ways to score in 2018 (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

As Jamie Nye pointed out Tuesday on CJME’s Green Zone, the 2018 Blue Bombers had a 10-3 record when Dressler was in the lineup, but were 0-5 when he was sidelined.

Dressler, being as modest as he is classy, will never take credit for such things. He is much quicker, though, single out others — such as Darian Durant, for example.

When the Roughriders last staged a West Division semi-final, it wasn’t looking promising for the home side. The B.C. Lions provided the toughest test of the 2013 post-season for the eventual Grey Cup champions, who won their following two playoff games by a combined score of 80-36.

Saskatchewan trailed the Lions 17-16 at halftime and 25-16 after three quarters before Durant, as Dressler put it, “kind of took over for us and almost singlehandedly won us that game.”

On the final play of the third quarter, Durant ran for 15 yards to extend a drive. Two plays later, in another second-and-10 situation, he took off on a 35-yard run to set up his 10-yard touchdown pass to Dressler, who scored his second major of the game.

The Roughriders’ next possession — an eight-play, 49-yard march — ended with a 45-yard Chris Milo field goal that put the home side ahead, 26-25.

Durant used his mobility once again late in the fourth quarter, running for gains of 28 (again on second-and-10) and 13 (on second-and-7) to put Saskatchewan in position for a 28-yard field goal by Milo, who concluded the scoring with 51 seconds remaining.

The Roughriders are poised to make history Sunday, when the first post-season game at new Mosaic Stadium is to be played.

Despite his current affiliation, don’t be surprised if, as usual, there are abundant green “Dresslers” — wearing the number 7 — in the audience.

The Riders had a light workout while preparing to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Semifinal on Sunday. Collaros went through the session taking all the reps as a starting quarterback normally would do.

Collaros was knocked out of the Riders last game in Week 20 when B.C. Lions defensive lineman Odell Willis delivered a controversial hit on the 30-year-old. Saskatchewan’s pivot stayed in the game despite being in visible discomfort.

During 14 games in the regular season, Collaros completed 61 per cent of his passes (234-of-382) for 2,999 yards, nine touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

While the Riders were on a bye for the final week of the regular season, the Riders signed veteran quarterback Drew Tate, prompting some concern about Collaros’ health status. But all signs point to Collaros starting in the first playoff game at new Mosaic Stadium.