June 8, 2024

Rob Vanstone: Tacklin’ Trevor Harris typified Roughriders’ resilience

Trevor Harris savoured two comebacks in one on Saturday.

Making his first appearance in a regular-season game since mid-July, the 38-year-old quarterback helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders rally from a 21-8 fourth-quarter deficit and defeat the Edmonton Elks 29-21.

A serious knee injury had forced Harris to miss the Roughriders’ final 13 games of the 2023 campaign.

“Today is probably one of the only days when I’ll take a minute to reflect on the journey to get back and just being on the field,” he said at Commonwealth Stadium a couple of hours after becoming only the 19th CFLer to reach 30,000 passing yards in a career.

“It was a long road and I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, so I think on the bus ride to the airport, I’ll probably take five minutes to have some gratitude and send out some grateful text messages to people who have helped me — mainly my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

“I’m very grateful that I’m able to keep playing this game. It could have easily been Saskatchewan saying that they didn’t want me to come back at my age and stuff, so I’m really grateful to this organization.

“This organization is going to get everything that I have this year. There won’t be one day when there’s a stone unturned. I’m going to keep crushin’.

“I just love this group of guys. I look forward to building something special here.”

Harris kept turning over stones after a turnover that could have deflated a lesser player, or a lesser team.

Late in the third quarter, Shawn Bane Jr. ran a post route and got open for what could have been a 61-yard touchdown.

Alas, the pass was intercepted by Kai Gray.

After Gray returned the pick to Edmonton’s 52-yard line, the Elks moved 35 yards in six plays before a 30-yard Boris Bede field goal gave the home side a 21-8 lead.

Harris responded with back-to-back-to-back completions that moved the Roughriders 70 yards and into the end zone. The capper was a 40-yard TD toss to Bane Jr.

He later hauled in a 33-yard scoring strike from Harris, who went 6-for-7 for 114 yards in the fourth quarter. The only incompletion was the result of a drop.

Always accountable, Harris emphasized his own miscue after the misfire to Bane Jr.

“It was just a poor throw,” the Roughriders’ signal-caller said. “Unfortunately, I just underthrew it. I saw Shawn so wide open. I could have brought him across the field. Instead, I kind of babied the throw.

“From there, I came to the sidelines and said to the guys, ‘That’s on me — straight on me.’ But I was never going to flinch.

“The mark of the mentally tough is when you’re struggling or you make a couple of mistakes that are mental and cost the team, but you just go out there and keep slinging it and keep fighting.

“We have a bunch of guys who are all-in on this. We’re not just involved in the situation. We’re all-in and we’re doing everything we can.

“We’re scrapping for every blade of grass and paying attention to every detail that we can to try and get these wins.

“To me, it’s just a mark of a good team — a team that was down two scores in the fourth quarter. We found a way to get it done.”

Timely turnovers certainly helped the cause.

After being plagued by mistakes (most notably penalties) over the first three quarters, the Roughriders capitalized on the Elks’ errors as the game approached its culmination.

On Edmonton’s first play from scrimmage after the 40-yard TD toss to Bane Jr., Deontai Williams forced a fumble by the Elks’ Javon Leake. Saskatchewan’s Jameer Thurman pounced on the loose ball.

A.J. Ouellette scored on a one-yard run three plays later. Brett Lauther’s convert, which made the score 22-21, put Saskatchewan ahead to stay.

The Roughriders forced another fumble when Edmonton appeared to be moving into range for a go-ahead field goal. With just under two minutes left, Bryan Cox Jr.’s strip-sack and fumble recovery gave Saskatchewan possession on the opposition’s 48-yard line.

The Elks’ unravelling continued when an unnecessary roughness penalty on first down rescued the Roughriders from a second-and-12 predicament.

Two plays later, Harris went deep for Bane Jr., and a 33-yard touchdown — the speedster’s third major of the game — resulted.

Selflessly, Harris deflected the credit to Offensive Co-ordinator Marc Mueller when referencing Bane Jr.’s hat-trick TD.

“It was a great call by Coach Mueller,” Harris said. “He did a tremendous job today getting us in the right place and allowed us to make the plays.”

Saskatchewan’s defence followed up by forcing its third fourth-quarter turnover in a span of 9:55.

C.J. Avery’s interception with 33 seconds remaining appeared to be the clincher, but the suspense was not yet over.

Ouellette fumbled while fighting for extra yardage on a second-and-three carry. The fumble was recovered by Darrius Bratton, who motored eight yards before being tackled by … you’ll never guess … Trevor Harris!

“When I saw it happen, I thought A.J. was down,” he said. “Then I saw (Bratton) running with the ball and I saw a couple of guys flanking him.

“The first thought in my mind was, ‘He could lateral this if I don’t tackle him,’ so I tried to grab him up top and bearhug his arms. That way, he wouldn’t be able to lateral it.

“I kind of had some momentum and ended up being able to twist him around and chuck him down.

“People were kind of congratulating me, saying they didn’t know I could tackle — but I didn’t, either.

“I was glad I was able to make that tackle, but I’m sure somebody else would have made that play had I not.”

After Bratton was felled, Edmonton scrimmaged the ball on its 51-yard line. Eighteen seconds remained.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson proceeded to complete passes for gains of four and 14. Then, with the ball snapped from Saskatchewan’s 41-yard line and enough time remaining for one play, the Elks’ passer launched a desperation throw toward the end zone.

The last-ditch aerial was knocked down by Rolan Milligan Jr., who enjoyed a robust return to regular-season duty after missing the final 14 games of 2023 with a toe injury that required surgery.

Yes, dear reader, it was a day for comebacks.