Courtesy: University of North Texas
One comeback prompted this flashback.
The rally referenced above was engineered by Mason Fine, who threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Saskatchewan Roughriders to Saturday’s 30-27 CFL pre-season victory over the B.C. Lions at Mosaic Stadium.
Late-game heroics are hardly foreign to Fine, who had orchestrated a borderline-impossible, come-from-behind NCAA victory for the University of North Texas Mean Green on Oct. 14, 2017 in Denton, Texas.
With only 1:07 left in the fourth quarter against the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Roadrunners, North Texas was hemmed in on its two-yard line and trailing 26-22.
Complicating matters, the Mean Green had exhausted its timeouts.
“The reporters told me after the game that there was a 99.5-per-cent chance of UTSA winning the game,” Fine recalled after Tuesday’s workout at Coors Light Riders Training Camp.
Ignoring the long odds, Fine and friends embarked on a long drive.
After completions to Michael Lawrence (eight yards) and Rico Bussey Jr. (10), Fine was flushed out of the pocket and threw the ball out of bounds.
He then scrambled to his left before finding Lawrence on a 49-yard bomb. Just like that, North Texas was on UTSA’s 31-yard line with 32 seconds remaining.
After a nine-yard completion to Jaelon Darden, Fine — who can still describe every play of that possession with precision and in animated fashion — spiked the ball to stop the clock once more.
On third-and-one from the 22-yard line, he stood in the pocket under intense, immediate pressure and, mere milliseconds before being flattened, spotted Bussey Jr. speeding across the middle.
Fine coolly side-armed the ball past a blitzer and hit Bussey Jr. in stride at UTSA’s 18-yard line. From there, the Mean Green receiver sped toward the end zone and crossed the goal line with 10 seconds left.
That’s what Fine was told, anyway.
He was flat on his back, staring at the sky, when the decisive major was scored.
“I got the wind knocked out of me, which was fine,” he said. “But I knew the clock was running down and, if the quarterback stays down due to injury, they run 10 seconds off the clock, so the game would have been over.
“I was trying to get up, because I didn’t know if we had scored. I had just heard a loud roar. I didn’t know if I had thrown a pick or if something big had happened.
“I was on the ground, trying to get up, and one of my teammates said, ‘We scored a touchdown. You can lay down now.’ So I got my wind and then they helped me up.
“It was awesome.”
Fine finished the game — won 29-26 by an emerging North Texas team — with 20 completions in 34 attempts for 354 yards and three TDs. He had also scored the Mean Green’s first major of the day, on a two-yard run.
His prowess under pressure was most recently in evidence this past weekend, when he threw back-to-back touchdown passes to Mitch Picton after the Lions had assumed a 27-17 lead on the strength of an interception-return TD.
The second scoring strike to Picton, from 12 yards away, put Saskatchewan ahead to stay with 2:44 left.
Afterwards, did Fine have the occasion to reflect on the comeback against UTSA or any other last-minute miracles?
“None of the specific games came to mind,” he responded, “but what did come to mind was just the confidence and the mentality of the resilience and the feeling of, ‘Hey, you’ve got this. You’ve done it before.’
“You should have the confidence in yourself and in your teammates. Go lead them, do the best you can, and then go win the game for them.”
FINE DAY FOR THE OFFENCE
Quarterback Trevor Harris received most of the snaps during a lively practice on Tuesday at Griffiths Stadium.
His effectiveness, and that of the entire offensive unit, was lauded by Head Coach Craig Dickenson.
“Yesterday, I think I mentioned that the offence struggled a little bit against some tough looks from the defence,” he said. “I really thought today was a bounce-back day for the offence.
“The defence played well, too, but I felt like whatever the coaches told the offence last night really made a difference.
“Today was a sharp day for the offence — and the defence was still doing a nice job, running to the football and playing hard.
“All in all, it was a really good day.”
- Offensive play of the day: Harris to Derel Walker on a deep post route for a touchdown. Harris displayed a deft touch while hitting Walker in stride as he accelerated toward the end zone.
- Defensive play of the day: A leaping interception by Rolan Milligan Jr.
- Special teams play(s) of the day: A moon shot by punter Kaare Vedvik, whose hang time was clocked by yours truly at 4.52 seconds. Vedvik and fellow Global player Adam Korsak combined for seven punts that had a hang time exceeding four seconds. Four of those booming boots were by Vedvik. David Solie, who received fewer reps than Vedvik and Korsak, unloaded one four-second special.
- Kosi Onyeka led the Roughriders’ defence in pass knockdowns, with two. Milligan Jr. and Jaxon Ford had singles.
- Jake Wieneke, who returned to the practice field after dealing with a hamstring injury, made two nice catches on seam routes. Walker, who was nursing a groin injury, also resumed practising in impressive fashion on Tuesday.
- Shawn Bane Jr. had a strong day, which included connections with Harris on back-to-back plays. Harris also found Picton and Kendall Watson for big gains.
- After catching a screen pass, Frankie Hickson was bowled over by an onrushing Larry Dean. The veteran middle linebacker proceeded to extend a hand and help Hickson to his feet. Hickson and Dean then exchanged helmet-taps.
- Jerald Hawkins, who is a good bet to start at left tackle, is away from the team while tending to a family matter. He is to return next week. The Roughriders’ regular-season schedule begins June 11 on the road against the Edmonton Elks. But first, there is Friday’s pre-season finale against the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers to consider.
- In the absence of Hawkins, the Roughriders used a variety of configurations along the offence line during Tuesday’s practice. “Five is one is our philosophy and you’ve got to play together,” Dickenson said. “It’s similar to the secondary. We move guys around up front to see if they can play well together. You don’t know your best five until you do that. Coach (Anthony) Vitale has been playing a little bit of musical chairs on the O-line and there’s a purpose behind it.”