REGINA – It was a classic, all right: a classic one-sided, butt-kicking that left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with more questions than answers as they limped back to Manitoba Sunday night.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders scored early and often in the latest installment of the Labour Day Classic, routing the Blue and Gold to the tune of 52-0 at Mosaic Stadium in a game where the visiting Bombers never showed up and were out-played in every area of the field.
"I can’t think of any aspect that we won," offered Tim Burke, who made his head coaching debut for the Bombers. Burke took over the duties after club management fired Paul LaPolice last weekend, and was one of a handful of coaches who addressed the players after the game.
Included in the list of speakers in the post-game: GM Joe Mack. He wasn’t made available to the media after the contest, but players indicate he told the team that he’s sticking with this group and no major roster changes will be made in the weeks to come.
Winnipeg, now 2-7 this year and in the CFL basement, has nine games to figure it out. If they can’t turn things around – and right now, it doesn’t feel like the horses are there to make that happen – the club will be in danger of holding the dubious distinction on reaching the Grey Cup one year, only to miss the playoffs the next.
"We’re not going to let the walls crumble down," Burke said. "I don’t think the players will give in. I think they’ll come back hard; I think we’ll give (the Riders) a great game this week… we’ll have a good game plan."
'Nothing went right': Johnson
The body is still warm from Sunday’s debacle, though, and some veteran players inside the Bombers locker-room after wards were in shock – mixed with part anger and a pinch of denial. This is one of those moments of the season that can define a team. No one wants to be described as pushovers, right?
"I can’t put it into words. Nothing went right, at all, whatsoever," Jovon Johnson said. "You could just feel it. Guys can’t get down on each other, regardless if the score is 42-0 or 7-0. We can’t just go out there and continue to let them do what they want to do.
"You gotta have some pride. You gotta build some pride and defend yourself."
Already up 3-0, the home side extended the lead when quarterback Darian Durant found receiver Weston Dressler for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 3:38 left in the opening quarter. A note: Winnipeg has been outscored 64-8 in the first quarters of games this season – a pathetic display to start games that has to start falling on the makeup of this team moving forward.
The Riders pushed their advantage to 17-0 when Durant found Dressler for a 21-yard touchdown strike 1:16 into the second quarter. That quickly turned into a 24-0 deficit when Tyron Brackenridge blocked Mike Renaud punt, scooped up the football, and rumbled in 15 yards for another major score.
And the party in Regina had the green light to go.
Wheels fell off: Elliott
Former Winnipeg receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 42-0 Riders. Riders backup quarterback Drew Willy also scored a touchdown for Saskatchewan, while kicker Sandro DeAngelis was a perfect 5-for-5 from field goal range.
Winnipeg’s offensive numbers were abysmal. The club managed just 50 net yards on offence in the first half, and 60 total yards with 10 minutes to go in the game. Starting quarterback was lifted in the fourth quarter, after turning in a 9-of-19 for 61 yards and an interception (by Brackenridge in the third quarter).
Elliott was lifted in favour of Alex Brink in the fourth quarter. All told, Winnipeg managed just 102 yards offence, a far cry from the 422 put forth by the Riders, and put up just 10 first downs. The deepest the Bombers got into Riders territory was the 39-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs.
"Sometimes when the wheels fall off, they fall off," Elliott said. "We’ve got to re-gather, look at each other. And offensively — I can speak for the offence — we’re going to come back and we’re going to have a better game plan for them.’’
'We have to learn how to win': Edwards
Receiver Terrence Edwards said the players are on the hook to find some success now, as the coaching change – typically a move designed to grab the attention of the team – was lost in translation somewhere along the way this week.
"It’s beyond the coaching; it’s the players," he said, saying he can’t remember that he’s never been shut out playing football before. "It’s on our shoulders. We have to learn how to play better. We have to learn how to win."
The Bombers turned the ball five times, including twice of kickoffs, as the Bombers return team seemingly had no interest in fielding the ball when it was kicked to them when the score was already out of hand.
The two teams wrap up mid-season acquaintances at the Banjo Bowl next Sunday (Sept. 9). Game time at Canad Inns Stadium is scheduled for noon.
HASH MARKS: The Bombers are 0-5 on the road this season… Durant had to leave the game in the third quarter after a hard tackle by Bombers defenders Marcellus Bowman and Jason Vega… The last time the Bombers lost in the LDC by a margin like this: the 1995 season, when the hosts laid a licking on the Bombers 56-4. Overall, the last time Winnipeg was shutout was in 1969.