It took three seasons, but Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Derrick Moncrief finally experienced his first Labour Day clash and it lived up expectations.
The six-foot-two, 220-pound Moncrief had six tackles, a sack and interception in Saskatchewan’s 19-17 home win over Winnipeg on Sunday. The victory moved the Riders (7-3) to within two points of the West Division-leading Blue Bombers (8-3) heading into the rematch Saturday at IG Field.
"It was very exciting, the atmosphere was great," Moncrief said during a CFL conference call Thursday. "Just watching over my previous two years the excitement was there."
There was no hiding Moncrief’s excitement when he got to Winnipeg starter Chris Streveler. After registering the sack for a 10-yard loss, the 26-year-old native of Prattville, Ala., was very demonstrative in his on-field celebration.
"The game of football I’ve been playing since I was five years old," he said. "The emotions of football, I just let it hang out when I’m playing.
"I just try to do my best."
Moncrief’s best has been pretty good this season. He’s appeared in all of Saskatchewan’s games thus far, having registered 47 tackles, four special-teams tackles, four sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble — all career highs.
Moncrief had 42 tackles, an interception and four tackles for a loss last season despite missing six games with a shoulder injury.
"Going back to my off-season, I just took care of my body," Moncrief said. "I trained really hard.
"I’m just out here trying to make plays for my team."
Moncrief began his U.S. college career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College as a safety and earned a scholarship to Auburn University after two years. He appeared in all 14 games at safety with the Tigers in 2014, registering 27 tackles, but transferred to Oklahoma State after being moved to linebacker.
Moncrief is listed as a strong-side linebacker with Saskatchewan, but that’s predominantly a cover position in the CFL.
The four sacks leave Moncrief tied with defensive lineman A.C. Leonard for second on the Riders behind Charleston Hughes (league-high 12 sacks). With three interceptions, Moncrief and teammate Loucheiz Purifoy are tied for third overall in the CFL.
Saskatchewan’s defence forced four turnovers last weekend but the Riders needed a 10-play, 87-yard march orchestrated by quarterback Cody Fajardo to secure the victory. Brett Lauther capped the drive with a 26-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
But Moncrief wasn’t the only Riders’ defensive player to shine. Hughes registered two sacks and three tackles while veteran middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian had a team-high nine tackles.
Moncrief said the decorated Elimimian, in his first year with Saskatchewan following nine stellar seasons with the B.C., has proven to be a huge asset for him.
Elimimian, 32, made CFL history in 2014 when he became the first pure defensive player to capture the league’s outstanding player award. He was also its top rookie in 2010 and twice has been named the top defensive player (2014, 2016).
"He’s just got great leadership," Moncrief said of Elimimian. "He was in training camp and we just sat down and discussed football things.
"He’s a great player, man. I look up to him."
Streveler finished 16-of-24 passing for 161 yards with a TD and the two picks while running for 65 yards and a TD on 11 carries Sunday. Streveler gave Moncrief and Co. a tip of the cap Thursday.
"They’re a great defence," he said. "They’ve got a lot of great players, they play fast, they’re physical, they love making plays and having fun out there.
"It’s a great challenge for us. Obviously they did some great things against us last week, got some takeaways and stuff. That’s one of the biggest things they do a great job of, getting takeaways, getting after the quarterback."
However, the Bombers will certainly have home-field advantage in the rematch with a perfect 5-0 record at IG Field.
"We have a great fanbase," Streveler said. "Our fans bring a lot of energy for us and I think we definitely seem to feed off that.
"I’m looking forward to being back at home this week."
Moncrief readily admits the Riders face a big challenge in Winnipeg, But he feels the simple approach will work best.
"Just play fundamental football," he said. "Don’t make the plays too big, just make the plays when they come to us."