Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Riders put it on the line

Saskatchewan hogs will bring home the bacon Sunday in Regina

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REGINA -- Five chubby guys will decide the 101st Grey Cup.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have lots of flashy players and they'll likely rule the headlines on Monday morning, but the five men on the Riders' offensive line will win this game.


Led by the country's best in Brendon LaBatte, the Riders have the top offensive line in the CFL. They've protected their quarterback and opened holes for their running backs all season. More than that, they've dominated games and they will again on Sunday.

LaBatte, Dominic Picard, Ben Heenan, Xavier Fulton and Chris Best will be the most important people on the field Sunday. Darian Durant and Korey Sheets will get all the attention, but it will be the big boys in front of them that win this game.

They will dominate the line of scrimmage, control the clock and push the offence that will score the most points.

Riders GM Brendan Taman has done a lot of good work over the last couple of years, but it all began with the restructuring of his offensive line.

Taman stole LaBatte from sleepy Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Joe Mack in the free agency season of 2012. Then he grabbed Picard from the Toronto Argonauts. He traded for Fulton and drafted Heenan. Best was the lone holdover.

In the span of a month, Taman put together the most dominant unit in the CFL.

Those moves put the Riders where they are today and will land the organization its fourth Grey Cup.

Hamilton's Kent Austin has some experts questioning the Riders and their chances to win. He's that smart. But Austin can game-plan all he wants and it won't change the fact the Riders have a group that will, in essence, own this game.

Korey Sheets has rushed for 245 yards in the Riders two playoff games this season and Saskatchewan has defeated two excellent teams in the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders. All behind the push up front.

Durant has been on point and his receivers are excellent. Defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall has gotten a lot from an under-rated group. But all of that is a la carte.

The key is the run game and it gets its steam from the hogs. Watch a few run plays on Sunday and you'll see LaBatte or Heenan seven yards down the field knocking a Tiger-Cats linebacker on his back.

They're fast and physical and accomplished. They'll make the Riders a force for years if Taman can keep them together.

Every game is decided on the line of scrimmage and this will be no different. Of the four lines in this game, two offensive and two defensive, Saskatchewan's front five is by far the most effective. Sunday will be their crowning moment.

They will capture Canada's pro football championship.

Turnovers are the only thing that can undo the Roughriders and it's the one thing LaBatte and his men can't control. If Durant puts the ball on the carpet or throws to the players in the wrong jerseys, everything goes out the window.

The Tiger-Cats can't win this game. The Riders can only lose it.

However that won't happen. Saskatchewan will win and they'll do it behind the work of the five big men on the offensive line. They'll push the ball up and down the field regardless of weather. Henry Burris and his Ti-Cats offence will grow cold on the sidelines watching the opposition plow and then harvest.

No work will get done in this province on Monday because of the labour in the trenches on Sunday. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 C4


Updated on Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 12:23 PM CST: minor edit

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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