Friday’s tilt between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Elks is nearing “must win” territory for the green and white.
The Riders can sweep the season series with a victory Friday, at the same time eliminating the Elks from post-season contention.
“We feel pressure, but the pressure this week is on ourselves, putting pressure on ourselves to play our best game,” head coach Craig Dickenson said.
“We feel like we need to play better and that we’re capable of doing that.”
The game doesn’t just have big implications on the standings, but it also kicks off a weekend of prairie football festivities which includes Friday’s CFL game, a CJFL tilt between the Regina Thunder and Saskatoon Hilltops on Saturday and is closed out with a U Sports battle between the Canada West Conference’s lone undefeated teams, the Regina Rams and Saskatchewan Huskies.
Both the junior and collegiate provincial rivalries run deep in Saskatchewan, and have left their mark in the Riders locker room.
“It’s pretty hostile,” former Rams receiver Mitch Picton admitted. “I remember when I was playing there were pre-game fights and always some jawing going back and forth. So yeah, it was a nasty rivalry and always an exciting game to play in.”
“Especially (for) me, being a Regina kid who decided to go up to Saskatoon,” former Huskies lineman Evan Johnson echoed. “It was always a special game on the schedule, getting to play against my hometown team and we just loved taking it to them as best we could.”
Although they now call each other teammates, all working towards the goal of winning a Grey Cup in front of their hometown faithful in Regina, this heated matchup has sparked some competitive jawing amongst the rivalling program’s alumni.
“The rivalry doesn’t end when our CIS career or U Sports career ends,” Johnson chuckled. “We’re looking at wagers, we’re talking trash, all that sort of stuff — we have a lot of fun with it.”
“The (Canada West) guys on the team we’re always going back and forth and (have) some little side bets going on,” Picton added. “It’s definitely going on this week with the Huskies; we’ve got Evan (Johnson) and Nelson (Lokombo) and the guys that played on the Rams. We’re trying to make sure we give it to them a little bit.”
Even though both men played on either side of the Huskies Rams rivalry, as kids who grew up playing football in Regina they both understand the colossal benefit this game can have for the teams, players and the community.
“(Growing up) here I understand what football means to this community and this province,” Picton said. “So, to play here on Friday night and then see the other two games, the junior and the Rams play on Saturday, it’ll be pretty cool.”
“It’s a celebration of football in Saskatchewan and there’s a lot to celebrate with that,” Johnson added. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of good Saskatchewan boys on the Roughriders here playing ball.
“Saskatchewan puts out some amazing football talent and for everyone lucky enough to come out and watch. I think it’s going to be a wonderful weekend for them.”