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Fajardo taking full advantage of his opportunity with Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo (7) celebrates a touchdown during first half CFL action against the Ottawa Redblacks, in Regina, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019.
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo (7) celebrates a touchdown during first half CFL action against the Ottawa Redblacks, in Regina, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Matt Smith / The Canadian Press

Cody Fajardo is the CFL’s 2019 feel-good story.

He began the year as Saskatchewan’s backup quarterback but was thrust into the starting lineup just three plays into the Roughriders’ season-opening loss in Hamilton when incumbent Zach Collaros suffered a concussion.

READ MORE: Roughriders cement CFL playoff berth with road victory over Argonauts

Fajardo, 27, not only has provided stability under centre, but has played a big role in the Riders (9-4) clinching a playoff berth for a third straight season.

He was 23-of-27 passing for 278 yards and three TDs in Saskatchewan’s 41-16 road win over the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday. He also ran for a game-high 80 yards and a touchdown.

Fajardo was named one of the league’s three top performers of the week on Tuesday for his performance in the game.

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This marks the third time this season Fajardo has been recognized as a top weekly performer.

Heady stuff, considering Fajardo served as a second- or third-string quarterback with Toronto (2016-17) and B.C. (2018) before signing with Saskatchewan.

“Zach, unfortunately, went down early,” said veteran linebacker Solomon Elimimian, also in his first season with Saskatchewan.

“Cody came in and seized the opportunity and really stabilized things for us.”

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“We’re playing with confidence individually and with each other and that’s something special. We just want to keep going, each game has its own challenges. We don’t want to be overconfident and lose focus and sight of what got you there.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Roughriders sign DB Jhavonte Dean to practice roster

The six-foot-two, 215-pound Fajardo had thrown just 68 passes for 414 yards and five TDs in his first three CFL seasons.

This year, he has completed 254-of-351 attempts (72.4 per cent) for 3,140 yards with 13 TDs and seven interceptions while rushing for 476 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Saskatchewan dealt Collaros to Toronto on July 31, although he has yet to play for the Argos.

“The biggest thing was if I got my opportunity to never regret it,” Fajardo said.

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“Go out, play as hard as I can each and every game because I never know when my last snap will be.”

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“I think that’s one thing many football guys have to understand, you can’t control the way your season or career is going. So for me, it’s playing every play like it’s my last and just lay it on the line for my guys because they respect me and look up to me and so I want to do everything I can to help this team, build this team and be positive.”

Timing is everything as Fajardo is scheduled to become a free agent next February.

But Fajardo and Co. still have much to do.

READ MORE: Brett Lauther hits late field goal, Roughriders beat Alouettes 27-25

Saskatchewan is battling Calgary (9-4) and Winnipeg (9-5) for top spot in the West Division and home-field advantage in the conference final.

Saskatchewan controls its own destiny with all five of its remaining regular-season games against West Division rivals, starting with Winnipeg on Saturday.

The winner of that contest claims the season series and tiebreaker should they end the year with identical records.

Winnipeg is coming off consecutive losses, including a 33-13 decision to Hamilton last week, the Bombers’ first at home this season.

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WATCH (August 2019): Fan’s Roughrider collection growing in size and popularity

Fan’s Roughrider collection growing in size and popularity
Fan’s Roughrider collection growing in size and popularity

While Saskatchewan boasts a young roster, it has established veterans like Elimimian — who won a Grey Cup with B.C. in 2011 and in ’14 was the CFL’s outstanding performer — to lean on.

“Everyone has a role on this team,” Elimimian said.

“For guys who haven’t experienced the highs and lows of the CFL and how each season can take a turn for the better or worst really fast, it’s good to have people who’ve been through that.

“I’ve been in situations where we started red hot and unfortunately didn’t go anywhere and also had a season (2011) where we went 0-5 and won the Grey Cup and so I understand you must prepare each week with the right mindset.

“Nothing will ever be given … You must show up every game because each team is fighting for something special.”