It was a hollow victory, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders will take it.
In their final home game of the 2011 season, the Riders dominated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-3 on a windy, cold day at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday.
With the teams' playoff fates decided, the game meant very little to either side but they definitely went about it in different ways.
The Riders will miss the playoffs but played the game with renewed spirit, particularly on special teams and defence as they forced five Ticats turnovers and kept them out of the end zone.
Hamilton, on the other hand, had already clinched a berth and couldn't move up or down in the standings regardless of the game's outcome. And they played like it.
Their coaches were shaking their heads at halftime when Hamilton trailed 17-0 but in the back of their minds they had to know more meaningful games are ahead.
The paid attendance for the game was 29,073, however, estimates suggest about 20,000 fans actually showed up. The most unfortunate thing about that was the fact the club's consecutive sell-out string ended at 19 games. It would have been nice to see the streak carried over to 2012 when better fortunes are anticipated.
But instead of scorning those who stayed away, we'll congratulate those braved the elements to show up to give their team a proper send-off.
They had the good fortune of seeing 17-year lineman Gene Makowsky lead his team out of the giant inflatable helmet to start the game (a first in his career), in what appeared to be his final home game after a Hall of Fame tour of duty.
The fans saw rookie kicker Chris Milo set a team record and tie a CFL one with an 108-yard punt in the first quarter.
And they rose to their feet as starting quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie knelt down to grind out the clock at the game's conclusion, giving their beloved club one final standing ovation in this head-shaker of a season. The Riders finished the home portion of the schedule at 3-6 and will take a 5-12 record into their final game of the season on Friday at Edmonton.
Hollow as it was, the club had reason to smile as a host of fresh faces left it all out on the field and emerged victorious.
"Yah I'm happy man," said rookie Rider tailback Brandon West who, playing in place of veteran Wes Cates, had 96 rushing yards. "This was real big. I could tell by the look on the men's faces that they were ready to go. Coach Ken Miller too. I love that guy."
Indeed it was also the swan song on the sidelines for Miller, who announced Monday that he would be stepping down from the organization.
"I tell you what, it feels good," Miller admitted. "The men in the locker room are really happy. I was particularly happy with the defence. The takeaways are so important. The special teams were good, Milo tied a CFL record and our offence moved the ball just enough."
It's anybody's guess as to what the Rider roster will look like for their final game Friday in Edmonton. However those are the small questions. The big ones will start to be answered one week from now.
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