The Winnipeg Blue Bombers became the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the CFL following a 20-18 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in a game where the Bombers did not gain the lead until the final three minutes of the game.
Zach Collaros had 214 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns in the win.
The Riders Cody Fajardo had 291 yards passing and an interception in the loss.
Saskatchewan elected to receive the ball after winning the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. Frankie Hickson got the offence rolling on the first possesion as he carried the ball for 40 yards on the ground. Shaq Evans chipped in with a pair of receptions for 21 yards before Fajardo plunged into the endzone as the Riders made an statement with their first drive as the green and white took a 7-0 lead.
After a single on the ensuing kickoff, the Bombers managed to move the ball inside of the green and white territory before ending after a Pete Robertson sack forced a fumble that was recovered by Miles Brown.
Kyran “Swerve” Moore picked up his first two receptions of the game for Saskatchewan’s second possession that was capped off by a 47 yard field goal.
Another opportunity to find the end zone for the Riders stalled at the Blue Bomber 22 as they settled for a field goal to extend their advantage to 14-0.
Winnipeg fought back early in the second quarter as former Rider Nic Demski was able to haul in a deep pass from Zach Collaros for a 50 yard touchdown with the Riders cut down in half.
Regina native Mitch Picton helped provide the response to the opening Bombers touchdown as he was able to sneak behind the Bombers secondary and picked up a 47 yard catch to set a 40 yard field goal by Lauther as Saskatchewan’s advantage was increased to double digits.
A massive swing of field of position transpired midway the second frame, after the Riders special teams missed a blocked punt opportunity. The green and white offence followed up the missed opportunity with a pair of offside penalties. A punt out of the Rider endzone led to a no yards penalty which gave the Bombers the ball at the Saskatchewan 35 yard line to begin the drive. Dalton Schoen scored a touchdown on his first reception of the game.
Winnipeg was able to tie the game at the end of the first half with a 34 yard field goal by Marc Leigghio after the Riders Mike Edem took a penalty for delievering a hit to the head of the Bombers receiver.
A pair of penaltes wiped a couple of key plays in the third quarter. Shaq Evans was called for offensive pass interference after he made a 51 yard reception.
Josiah St. John was flagged for a holding that negated a 24 yard reception by Hickson as the two teams entered the final quarter tied at 17-17.
Discipline problems spilled over into the final quarter as the bench was flagged with misconduct penalty that turned a cleared away a short second down situation.
Kaare Vedvik put the Riders ahead with a 77 yard punt that was conceed for a single point.
With three minutes remaining Winnipeg managed to gain the lead for the first time after Liegghio nailed a 55 yard field goal to nudge the Bombers ahead at 20-18.
A final attempt by the Riders offence in the final three minutes came up short after a pass deflected off the hands of Hickson and into the hands of Nick Hallett.
Shaq Evans had big game in his first game back since Week 3, with five catches for 88 yards. It was another strong game on the ground for Hickson with 85 yards rushing.
Demski had 96 combined yards along with a touchdown for Winnipeg in the victory
The Bombers moved to 11-1 on the season while the Riders drop down to 6-6.
Post Game Thoughts
Following the game, Head Coach Craig Dickenson addressed the bench penalty taken by Duke Williams.
“Moving forward there will be no players on the bench area that aren’t either playing or thoroughly involved in coaching because that was very disappointing, that hurt us, that hurt us bad, it was a stupid penalty, I think Duke feels bad about it, as he should, and hopefully he has expressed that to his teammates.”
Shaq Evans said the bench penalty is a mistake that the Riders can not commit.
“Killed the momentum, it’s frustrating we were right there and for something like that to happen in a game like this, is definetly frustrating.”
Along with the penalty from the bench, there was plenty of frustration from the Riders after the game on Sunday.
The last few losses against Winnipeg have proven to be a bad case of deja vu for Fajardo.
“Seems like the same story but just different day, every single time we play these guys, it’s always close to the end, and we’re always on the wrong side of it. ”
Evans believed it was a case of the Riders giving the game away on Sunday.
“You go out there and you execute and you feel like you made all the plays you need to make, and it’s pretty much boneheaded penalties that cost us in the end, I felt like we gave them the game, at the beginning of the game we had them on their heels and we left them off the hook.”
The pass inteference call against Evans was one that the wide receiver didn’t agree with.
“I felt it was a BS call, I felt that was football, we both had our hands on each other, and anyone that knows football knows he flopped, I didn’t push, he had his hands on me, I had my hands on him, we were both engaged, I felt like he knew that he was going to win that battle and he just flopped and the referees fell it.”
Looking back at the decision of challenging the pass interference call against Evans, Dickenson didn’t think he would win the challenge but felt he had to take a chance.
“I was trying to back the offensive staff on that one, trying to back Shaq on that one, I didn’t have a good feeling on that one, but I thought it was worth the challenge.”
Dickenson added not only did penalties cost the Riders the victory against the Bombers, but they came at the worst time according to the Riders Head Coach.
“They came at the worst time, if you noticed we got big gains and then a holding, we got big gains and it’s offensive PI (pass interference), we did a good job of coverage and then it’s no yards. ” He added “You can’t pick and choose that’s why you got to try and limit the penalties the best you can because they always come at the worst possible times.”
After a frustrating loss like Saskatchewan suffered on Sunday, Fajardo says it’s important to get back focused with a positive frame of mind.
“We got to stay together, sometimes those losses are harder on a team than if you were blown out.”
The Labour Day Classic came down to a few plays and according to Dickenson, the Bombers ability to make those plays are the reason they are the best team in the league.
“Just seems like we’re one play away and we didn’t make’em, and it seemed like Winnipeg did, that’s why I think they’re the defending champs, and we’re one of those teams trying to catch them.”
Saskatchewan and Winnipeg will meet once again on Saturday, this time in Winnipeg. You can listen to the game on 620 CKRM with an opening kickoff at 3:00.