Vanstone: Roughriders’ Jake Dolegala had highs and lows in first CFL start

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Vanstone: Roughriders’ Jake Dolegala had highs and lows in first CFL start

It was an uneven debut as a CFL starting quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Jake Dolegala on Sunday against Toronto.

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Jake Dolegala made his first CFL start on Sunday, when the visiting Toronto Argonauts registered a 31-21 victory.
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Jake Dolegala made his first CFL start on Sunday, when the visiting Toronto Argonauts registered a 31-21 victory. Photo by Troy Fleece /Regina Leader-Post

It was a suitably tall order to ask the Saskatchewan Roughriders to win with a 6-foot-7 quarterback who was making his first start at any level of professional football — especially when he was at the controls of a depleted offence.

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But the Green and White actually made a game of it Sunday against the Toronto Argonauts, who trailed 21-14 before scoring 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points and ultimately prevailing 31-21 at Mosaic Stadium.

Lanky Jake Dolegala, who was elevated from third-string duty due to health issues affecting Cody Fajardo (knee injury; COVID-19) and Mason Fine (illness), demonstrated a rocket-powered throwing arm. At times, though, there was a little too much liftoff.

“That was the story of today’s game for Jake Dolegala — high and incomplete,” Luc Mullinder observed on CKRM’s game broadcast after the Roughriders’ pivot fired a pass over the head of receiver Samuel Emilus in the waning seconds.

There were also some highs, period, for Dolegala as he threw for 131 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Here is a breakdown:

INCOMPLETIONS (15)

High passes (5): Two to Dieuly Aristilde Jr.; two to Kian Schaffer-Baker; one to Emilus.

Nearly intercepted (2): By Jamal Peters (who couldn’t hold on to the football after stepping in front of Emilus with nothing but open field ahead) and Chris Edwards (on a hot route, with Schaffer-Baker the intended receiver).

Knockdowns (2): Deep throw to Schaffer-Baker; intermediate pass to Tevin Jones.

Catchable, but not caught (2): Schaffer-Baker (intermediate sideline route) and Emilus (slant).

Intercepted (1): By DaShaun Amos on a two-point conversion attempt; Schaffer-Baker was the intended receiver.

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No receiver anywhere near the football (1): Statisticians dutifully listed Schaffer-Baker as the target after a pass sailed out of bounds.

Behind the receiver (1): Intermediate pass to Schaffer-Baker.

In front of the receiver (1): Dolegala appeared to lead tailback Jamal Morrow too far on a swing pass that ended up bouncing out of bounds.

COMPLETIONS (13)

Extremely boring horizontal throws (6): Two to Morrow for 19 yards, including a 10-yarder in garbage time; four to Frankie Hickson for — get this — minus-13. Hickson had one reception for positive yardage (a gain of three on second-and-10) and catches for losses of nine, four and three.

Dazzling dimes (5): All five impressive completions to Jones, for gains of 22, 14, 12, 10 (touchdown!) and nine. Aside: Jones must remain in the lineup. Compare his production to that of fellow American Jakob Prall, who had nine receptions for 99 yards in six games before sitting out Sunday with an injury. Prall has just three catches over his last three games. Also unproductive: National receiver Justin McInnis, who has just 11 catches for 88 yards in six games. The Montreal-born Emilus has eight more yards on seven fewer catches.

Underthrown deep pass (1): 51 yards to Emilus, who had to wait for the football after gaining five yards of separation. Instead of celebrating a 70-yard touchdown, the Roughriders settled for a Brett Lauther field goal. The fact that a pass that travelled 47 yards beyond the line of scrimmage is labelled an underthrow is a testament to Dolegala’s arm talent, which is intriguing. His 51-yarder to Emilus was Saskatchewan’s longest completion of the season. The previous high: 45 yards, from Fine to Duke Williams during a 37-13 loss to the host Montreal Alouettes on June 23. Fajardo has thrown a pair of 44-yarders to Schaffer-Baker. (Williams missed Sunday’s game due to a CFL-issued suspension.)

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Curl route (1): To Morrow for a seven-yard gain. On third-and-three, Dolegala ran for seven yards. Two plays later, he completed a picturesque pass to the 29-year-old Jones for the Roughriders’ lone offensive touchdown.

Jones, by the way, registered a regular-season touchdown for the first time since Oct. 23, 2015, when he had two scoring grabs for the University of Memphis Tigers in a 66-42 NCAA victory over the University of Tulsa Hurricane.

Jones scored on passes of 58 and five yards from Paxton Lynch — last year’s 6-foot-7 Roughriders quarterback.

Roughriders receiver Tevin Jones hauls in a 10-yard Jake Dolegala pass for a touchdown Sunday against Toronto.
Roughriders receiver Tevin Jones hauls in a 10-yard Jake Dolegala pass for a touchdown Sunday against Toronto. Photo by Troy Fleece /Regina Leader-Post

SO LONG, SIX POINTS

The Roughriders, chronically penalized this season, were flagged only six times for 51 yards on Sunday. However, one penalty was as costly as any call that has gone against Saskatchewan in 2022.

On second-and-goal from the one-yard line, Dolegala plunged into the end zone on a quarterback sneak. However, backup offensive lineman Josiah St. John — in the game to provide extra beef in a short-yardage situation — was flagged for illegal procedure.

Five-yard retreat. Second-and-goal from the six.

Dolegala then threw one of offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas’s beloved horizontal passes — to Hickson for a loss of four. The play was quickly diagnosed and destroyed by Argos linebacker Wynton McManis.

McManis, coincidentally enough, had five tackles for Memphis in the aforementioned, 66-42 shootout versus Tulsa, which was quarterbacked by current Hamilton Tiger-Cats pivot Dane Evans.

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Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Darnell Sankey falls to the Mosaic Stadium turf after making a leaping interception Sunday against the Toronto Argonauts.
Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Darnell Sankey falls to the Mosaic Stadium turf after making a leaping interception Sunday against the Toronto Argonauts. Photo by Troy Fleece /Regina Leader-Post

SHORT SNORTS

Darnell Sankey on Sunday registered the Roughriders’ lone interception — the fifth by a Saskatchewan linebacker this season. Derrick Moncrief has three. Larry Dean has one. Half of the Roughriders’ interceptions have been by a linebacker. Moncrief and cornerback Nick Marshall are tied for the team lead in picks.

• Saskatchewan has surrendered three of the CFL’s six completions of 70-plus yards through the first seven weeks of the 2022 season. Most recently, McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit Kurleigh Gittens Jr. for a 70-yard score on Sunday. The Roughriders have also given up aerial gains of 71 (Evans to Steven Dunbar Jr., Hamilton touchdown, June 11) and 70 (Trevor Harris to Kaion Julien-Grant, Montreal TD, June 23). As well, Saskatchewan has surrendered two 66-yarders — by Manny Arceneaux (Edmonton Elks, June 18) and Tyson Philpot (Montreal, June 23).

• In addition to registering a strip-sack and a fumble recovery on separate plays, 38-year-old Roughriders defensive end Charleston Hughes made a key block on a 112-yard missed field-goal return touchdown by Mario Alford. Hughes flattened the Argos’ Gregor Mackellar. Other key blocks: Nelson Lokombo and Malcom Lee (both of whom eliminated Argos kicker Boris Bede), Jeremy Clark (on John Haggerty) and Amari Henderson (who sent Trevor Hoyte flying).

• Alford boasts four return touchdowns in only 17 CFL regular-season games. He had two punt-return majors for Montreal in 2019 and one such score in 2021. As well, he scored on a 99-yard kickoff return for the Alouettes in the 2019 playoffs.

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• Sunday’s TD by Alford was the Roughriders’ fourth on a missed field goal since the CFL began keeping track of such statistics in the mid-1980s. Tristan Jackson had missed field-goal return touchdowns of 129 yards (July 14, 2012 versus B.C. Lions) and 111 yards (Aug. 2, 2014, Ottawa Redblacks). Albert Brown scored on a 108-yarder on Oct. 1, 1993 against B.C. Saskatchewan’s Paul Williams returned an errant placement by Edmonton’s Dave Cutler 108 yards to pay dirt on Aug. 15, 1976, but such plays were categorized as punt returns in those days.

• Saskatchewan’s record versus East Division teams this season: 3-3. The other four West Division teams’ collective record versus the East: 11-0. Gulp.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

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