Janarion Grant’s 92-yard punt return for a touchdown proved to be the decisive blow on Friday night as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 45-27.
There was an originally a penalty flag thrown on the play, which stalled the celebration momentarily, but after Bombers Head Coach Mike O’Shea successfully challenged the play, the call was reversed, and the touchdown was upheld.
The Roughriders record drops down to 1-1, while Winnipeg improves to 2-0.
Despite being listed with a game-time decision with a hip injury, Saskatchewan quarterback Trevor Harris suited up for the Roughriders home opener and was effective with 414 passing yards and three touchdown passes.
Samuel Emilus had a big night for Saskatchewan with three touchdown receptions and 86 receiving yards.
Winnipeg was led by Zach Collaros who had 292 passing yards, two touchdowns and was able to make some timely plays with his feet.
Dalton Schoen had 149 yards receiving and a touchdown for the Blue Bombers.
Winnipeg had to settle for their first points of the game after Nic Demski took an offensive pass interference which led to a 36-yard field goal Sergio Castillo.
Saskatchewan responded on their second possession of the game. Tevin Jones was able to reel in a 38-yard reception down the sideline, setting up Harris finding Samuel Emilus in the endzone, as the Roughriders first round pick in 2022 scored his first career touchdown to give the Roughriders their first advantage.
The Blue Bombers regained the lead early in the second quarter when Schoen made a shoestring touchdown reception.
Collaros then showed his Most Outstanding Player form to extend the Bombers lead, finishing off a 10-play, 72-yard drive with a four-yard scramble into the endzone. The Winnipeg possession included a 2nd and 20 conversion.
Harris and the Roughriders closed out the opening half by running the hurry-up offence efficiently, marching the ball 59 yards in 31 seconds, with Emilus finishing off the drive with his second touchdown of the game, leaving Saskatchewan trailing by three at the half, 17-14.
The momentum carried over into the second half on their opening possession in the third quarter, The Roughriders marched the ball 79 yards down the field which included Harris connecting with Shawn Bane Jr. on a deep 45-yard reception Emilus continued his career night with his third touchdown to regain the lead for the green and white.
Winnipeg’s resilience reemerged as they jumped back ahead of the scoreboard on their next possession as Dru Brown dove over the goal line, allowing the Blue Bombers to hold a three-point advantage, 24-17.
Following Grant’s punt return, the Roughriders fought back with a field goal to cut the deficit to seven. But the Bombers were quick to extend their lead to 14.
Saskatchewan answered back with Brett Lauther’s second field goal of the game trimmed the Blue Bombers lead to 11.
But Winnipeg would put the final nail of the coffin with Drew Wolitarsky hauling in a 11-yard touchdown to make the final 45-27.
Tevin Jones had nine catches for 121 receiving yards for Saskatchewan with Bane Jr. picking up 125 receiving yards with six receptions.
Larry Dean had ten tackles in the loss for the Roughriders.
Head Coach Craig Dickenson said after the game that he felt his team battled through some tough circumstances.
“Our guys fought hard til the very end. We probably lost five guys at half, that we didn’t have in the second half, so I felt like there of dudes, playing a lot of spots that they weren’t used to or comfortable doing, I thought they did a nice job of sticking to it and trying to grind it out.”
Dickenson noted some of the players who went down for the Roughriders at various points on Friday night included Jayden Dalke, Lake Korte-Moore, Nicholas Dheilly, Albert Awachie and Frankie Hickson.
The Riders head coach felt the big return by Grant was turning point on Friday night.
“We had a lot of people there, just couldn’t bring him to the ground and he just ended up extending the play and scoring on us. I hate to give those plays up being a special teams guy by nature, but we’ll look at what happened and how that happened and hopefully make some corrections so it doesn’t hopefully happen again in the future.”
With the Roughriders trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Dickenson elected to kick a field goal instead of going for it with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation. Looking back, the Roughriders head coach felt there was enough time to go with the field goal at that stage of the game.
“I just felt there were a lot of possessions left, I just wanted to kick a field goal and hopefully we can score twice and win the game. ”
Even though it was a career night for Emilus, he took it in stride.
“I was just doing my job, helping the offence the way that I can.”
The wide receiver said the loss to the Blue Bombers definitely stung.
“We felt like that we could’ve won the game, could been one or two plays that could’ve changed the outcome.”
Dean said the Roughriders had opportunities against the Blue Bombers, but they weren’t able to capitalize on all of them.
“We had them for awhile, but it’s a 12 round fight and we have to fight 12 rounds.”
Despite the loss, Dickenson is confident the Roughriders are heading in the right direction.
“I think our process is good right now and I think if we can be patient and just keep doing what we’re doing, working hard, playing together, being physical when we’re out there, I think it’s going to turn. ”
Next action for the Roughriders will be next Saturday, when they head to Calgary to meet the Stampeders.