Musical quarterbacks

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

REGINA -- Marcus Crandell is trying to avoid the disastrous stretch run that marred the 1999 Edmonton Eskimo season.

There are some eerie similarities between the Eskimo squad from that year and the 2005 Saskatchewan Roughriders.

In 1999 in Edmonton: Nealon Greene began the regular season as the Eskimos' starting quarterback, but the club struggled with a losing record. Crandell replaced Greene near the halfway mark of that year.

This year in Regina: Greene started the season as the No. 1 pivot, but the Green and White lost five straight games heading into Labour Day, which was when Crandell assumed the reins.

Of course, there are some differences between the two seasons. Greene hurt his hamstring during the seventh game of Edmonton's 1999 campaign, allowing Crandell to get his first pro start.

THIS YEAR, GREENE ISN'T HURT

This year, Greene isn't hurt.

Saskatchewan fans are hoping there are two more key differences between the two seasons: a) Crandell stays healthy for the remainder of the year and b) the Riders don't implode, like the 1999 Eskimos did, finishing the year 6-12.

When coach Don Matthews handed Crandell the starting assignment in 1999, it appeared his debut would be successful against Hamilton at Commonwealth Stadium.

"We were winning the game with two minutes left and we were trying to run the clock out," remembered Crandell.

Matthews instructed his new pivot to fake a handoff and run the ball. Unfortunately for Crandell, the play had trouble written all over it from the moment the ball was snapped.

"Joe Montford - one of the best in the business - read it perfectly. I tried to outrun him and he grabbed me from behind on my shoulder pads and my foot was still in the ground," he recalled.

Crandell suffered a left ankle injury that sent him to the sidelines for a few weeks. He only started one more game that year, as the Eskimos played musical chairs at the quarterback position. Five different players were brought in that season to throw the ball.

Fast-forward to this year and Crandell is undefeated as a Riders starter, helping to keep the team in the playoff hunt.

The 31-year-old North Carolina product has won back-to-back games.

"He has been poised and made good decisions with the football," said Saskatchewan head coach Danny Barrett.

Crandell hasn't thrown an interception or turned the ball over on the ground since taking the job from Greene.

But the success hasn't reduced the amount of pressure placed on his shoulders.

In this football-mad province, Rider Priders are looking to Crandell to lead them to the promised land - a home playoff date, which hasn't happened in Regina in 17 years.

PERSONABLE SIGNAL CALLER

But that stuff doesn't bother the personable signal caller.

"Like I tell people all the time, we have 39 other guys that will be out there with me," said the seven-year CFL veteran. "They have my back."

A home playoff date would bring a financial windfall to the Riders.

The team would buy the game from the league and likely realize a profit near $500,000.

So, winning Sunday and for the rest of the season is of huge importance, to say the least.

But Crandell is used to being in tough and challenging spots.

He lived through the Calgary Stampeders circus last year, starting and winning the first game of the year before being pulled at halftime during the second game, trailing 9-7 to Montreal.

That started a wacky and frustrating season, being yanked in and out of the lineup.

To make matters worse, his father died last summer.

But Crandell learned how to handle all of those challenges - and is now looking forward to his next challenge, beating the Eskimos tomorrow at Taylor Field.

"We are in the (playoff) hunt. We got ourselves back into it," he said, referring to the Riders' 5-6 record, which leaves them four points behind Edmonton in the battle for second place in the Western Division.

"I'm just excited we won a couple of ball games in a row and we just have to keep it going."


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