Bombers do their happy dance after sweet win over Roughriders
The stadium was emptier than it’s been all season, but there’s no denying the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a team bursting with promise.
With the CFL playoffs just four weeks away, the Bombers put an exclamation point on a four-game run by pounding the Saskatchewan Roughriders, 31-0, Saturday, Winnipeg’s first shutout in a dozen years.
While the size of the chilled and windblown crowd may suggest the level of faith in town remains lukewarm — they announced 26,070 in attendance, but the turnout was considerably less — the Bombers are operating at a different temperature than we’ve seen all year.
“We are catching fire right now,” is how middle linebacker Adam Bighill put it.
Nobody was hotter than Bighill.
Three quarterback sacks, five additional defensive tackles, several in key situations, and a general all-overthe-field presence — and to think he was only a late, off-season signing.
Bighill was cradling his son, Adam, Jr., in his arms after the game, probably one of the few things he likes wrapping up more than opposing quarterbacks.
“I don’t think I’ve done three in a game in my professional career,” Bighill said of his sack carnage. “It’s what I love to do: Pass-rush, get after the quarterback and make plays to help my team win.”
It’s impossible to imagine this defence without No. 4.
A month ago, it was almost as hard to imagine this team in this position.
Staggering through the second half of the season, the Bombers appeared as good as dead after a third and fourth consecutive loss, both to the Riders in the annual home-and-home set.
But 5-7 has become 9-7, and if the playoffs started today Winnipeg, in third and charging, would be the scariest team going in.
“You let a good team like that start building a snowball,” Riders O-lineman Brendan Labatte said. “And it’ll get big in a hurry. And that’s what happened.”
A meeting between these two in the West semifinal is looking more and more likely, and Saturday’s thumping fired a message Regina’s way.
Those two mid-season losses? Erased.
“Most definitely,” Bombers O-lineman Jermarcus Hardrick said. “But like we all know, we will see them again. And that’s the one that’s going to matter. This one here was big, but if we see Sask again it would be for the marbles.
“We’ll be ready. I don’t know if we sent a message, but we’ll be ready.”
So what’s turned this team around, from being on the verge of also-ran status to apparent contender?
“There’s an element of confidence there,” head coach Mike O’shea said. “And I think there’s an element of, ‘Hey, it’s time. And why not us?’ ”
On Saturday, the Bombers came out of the gate, grabbed
the Saskatchewan defense’s M.O. — the ability to score — and clubbed the Riders offence with it.
Barely five minutes in, Bighill got his hands on Riders receiver Kyran Moore, who coughed up the ball right into the arms of Winnipeg defender Anthony Gaitor. Touchdown, Bombers, 45 yards later.
On Saskatchewan’s next possession, Winnipeg safety Taylor Loffler picked off Zach Collaros for the first of two times, and two things were becoming apparent: Collaros was having a brutal day, and the Bomber defence was ready to rock.
“It was a similar feel to the Edmonton game where you can feel right away how well your defence is playing,” Bomber quarterback Matt Nichols said. “You kind of just want to let them go do their thing and not put them in any bad situations.”
They did their thing to the tune of allowing just 12 first downs and 170 net yards, while forcing four turnovers and collecting four quarterback sacks.
Nichols and the offence did a little more than stay out of their way, his touchdown bomb to Darvin Adams covering 72 yards before the first quarter was up.
Adams, who’s let a few of these slip through his hands this season, had blown by a sleeping Saskatchewan secondary, and Nichols hit the bulls-eye in a swirling wind.
“That was a great ball he threw and that made it easy for me,” Adams said. “I just had to do my job – catch the ball and run. It was right in my hands. If I’d have dropped it then I would have been in trouble.”
It was more of the same in the second quarter, Loffler’s second interception producing a Justin Medlock field goal.
That’s when the Bomber offence got sneaky.
On a second-and-short, backup quarterback Chris Streveler made like he was going to sneak it, freezing the Riders defence enough to find Weston Dressler for a 31-yard score, and it was 24-0.
After a Bighill sack, the Bombers were driving when Streveler replaced Nichols and pulled off a perfect fake reverse, taking off up the middle for 24 yards, to the Riders’ one.
A play later he was in on a real sneak, and the slaughter was complete by halftime.
“We all know Chris Streveler can run our offence,” O’shea said. “And he has some different attributes, different skill sets than Matt. Yeah, it’s good the way we’re utilizing them. The number of plays is perfect.”
The defence continued its perfect day of work in the second half.
Instead of yielding all kinds of yardage and points in garbage time, they tied up the trash bag and stuffed it in the bin.
“It feels great,” Loffler said of the shutout. “You don’t see that very often.”
In the first half, the Riders offence didn’t get past the Winnipeg 47-yard line.
In the second, they got to the 40 once.
That the Bomber offence didn’t score in the second half, either, can’t be much of a concern.
It did move the ball enough to eat up the clock, playing safe except for an interception by Streveler, who played the fourth quarter.
“To have a game like this does a lot for the psyche and the confidence,” running back Andrew Harris said.
Those two things have come a long way for the Bombers in a month that also included big wins over Edmonton and Ottawa.
They look poised and hungry for more.
But like we all know, we will see them agian. And that’s the one that’s going to matter. This one here was big, but if we see Sask again it would be for all the marbles. Jermarcus Hardrick
Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols throws as Roughriders’ Cameron Judge applies pressure yesterday at Investors Group Field.
Blue Bombers’ Kevin Fogg (bottom) jumps on the loose ball fumbled by Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Caleb Holley yesterday at Investors Group Field.