Plotting a nightmare

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

REGINA -- Every time Ricky Ray sees a young quarterback like Steven Jyles get his first start in the league, he thinks back and wonders what it would have been like if he'd botched it.

What makes this situation different is that's the game plan.

To make his old clipboard-carrying backup fall flat on his face in his first start of his CFL career for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

This is a guy, Ray admits, who has called him a few times during the season and, in fact, called him just a couple of weeks ago "as a friend just checking in to see how things were going."

Ray came to the Eskimos hoping to make the team as a third-string quarterback, made it as No. 2 to Jason Maas and found himself starting halfway through his first season when Maas was injured and ended up starting the rest of the games that season and starting all the way through to the Grey Cup.

"I didn't expect it to happen that soon," said Ray when he checked in here yesterday, two sleeps prior to the extra- large game they'll play here tomorrow.

"I remember back to how I approached that game. It was at home to the B.C. Lions and I just decided to go out there and not try to do anything outside what they were asking me to do in the game plan. Just do my job. Try not to make mistakes."

In Ray's first game he completed 21 of 28 passes for 277 yards. He threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

"As it turned out, I played well," he said. "Obviously, there's a little doubt in there because you've never started a game. But what you want to do in that situation is take advantage of your opportunity."

Ray said he looks back and realizes how much that one game meant to his career.

"It's definitely a confidence-builder to go in there and start the first time, play a good game and win. You can really build off that. If it goes the other way, you have to deal with a lack of confidence, not just yourself but with your teammates and the coaching staff. Lots of times you might not get another chance."

Jyles takes an interesting set of stats into this game. In his last two meaningful appearances in relief for the Riders - last week's win against Hamilton and back in July doing the same against Toronto - he was 28-for-32 passing for 81.3%.

Ray said Jyles is hardly starting cold turkey like he did.

"He's played in parts of five or six games," he said. "He has a very strong arm and good athletic skills. It's just a question of putting it together."

The Eskimos, in keeping Stefan LaFors and trading Jyles here for Fred Perry to make room for the return of Maas, were effectively betting against him.

And now they are game-planning to make him fail.

"It would be nice to get a lead and make them become one-dimensional," said Ray.

"It would be nice to have the field position and the situations to put a lot of heat on him."

To most Saskatchewan fans, the belief is that the defending Grey Cup champions are a good team without a quarterback and it's just Jyles's turn in the barrel.

It's been the opposite for Eskimo fans the last couple of years. Ray has been a good quarterback without a team.

But this year, on occasion, Ray's had a team as the Eskimos go into this game with a 9-7 record.

If you go by statistics, you could make a case that Ray has a marginally better team to take into this game and the post-season - however this fascinating season ends up - than the 10-6 Roughriders.

On offence, the Eskimos numbers rank them third in the league while Saskatchewan sits sixth. On defence the Riders rank third and the Eskimos are fourth.

"We've got the team," said Ray. "We just haven't reached any consistency yet. We've got a good enough team to beat anybody. We have beat everybody in the West and if we win this one, we'll have managed to beat everybody in their own park. But we haven't proved we can be that team one week and be that team again the next week."

You could make a case that the Eskimos might be better off to lose this game and go East as the crossover team in the playoffs. But Ray says no way.

"It doesn't matter who you play in the playoffs, they're going to be a playoff team. You try to win every week and roll one success into the next success all the way through the playoffs."

You try to make Steven Jyles's first start in the CFL a nightmare.


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