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Cheap and dirty indeed

Riders O-line far from fancy, but it wins the battles

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Dominic Picard and Brendon LaBatte may be cheap and dirty, as Bombers defensive lineman Zach Anderson pointed out this week, but they’re not sexy.

Not in the football sense of the word or in any sense imaginable. Believe me, I’ve seen them both in various stages of undress and it ain’t easy on the eyes.

But let them do their thing and they win football games.

Mid-summer games, day games, night games, cold weather games and yes, championship games, all happen to be of the type the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their offensive line can win.

At its very core, football is about pushing the other guys out of the way. Thursday night the Winnipeg Blue Bombers got pushed halfway to Regina.

The Roughriders and their big boys gave Winnipeg’s grunts more than they could handle and eventually took over the game.

Late in the fourth quarter with the score still tight, Riders offensive co-ordinator George Cortez put his exotic playbook in a drawer and called one run play after another.

Eventually, power football won out over Hail Mary football.

While the Riders were content to plod and grind and wait for mistakes, the Bombers were forced to take chances. Chances that ended up in errors and points against.

One brand of football makes for highlights. The other ends up with an organization forking out for chunky rings smiling diamond smiles.

Sooner or later the line of scrimmage tells the tale and for the Blue Bombers the story turned sour on Thursday night.

They collided head on with the CFL’s best defensive lineman in John Chick and the top offensive line in the country. Chick was wild and unharnessed all night, collecting three sacks. LaBatte, the CFL’s best on the offensive line, et al swung open the gate for Jerome Messam to gallop through.

Messam finished the night with 126 yards while Winnipeg’s running backs Nic Grigsby and Paris Cotton had a collective eight yards. Yup, eight yards.

The Bombers have been a great story to date. A page-turner. The Riders, however, are a heavy tome which will last well into the winter.

One could call hot-type reads such as the Bombers perfect beach books. Eventually though, fall rolls around and the heavy lifting must begin. Enter much sturdier stock. Enter the Riders.

To date the Bombers and their 5-2 record have been a brilliant story. But, despite head coach Mike O’Shea’s insistence this wasn’t a measuring-stick game, June and July wins are only the beginning of the story.

As O’Shea also said this week, the wins become harder to come by as the season grows older.

The Riders are the Grey Cup champs. Of course, this was a measuring-stick game. Every team in the league is chasing Saskatchewan until they aren’t champs any more.

The Bombers faithful can now look ahead to two more games with these same Riders in the next four on the schedule.

Losing three in a row to your Prairie cousins would be less than palatable. But until the Bombers can figure out a way to handle the heavy going on the line of scrimmage they are going to have some trouble on their hands. Big trouble.

It’s unfair to call the Bombers a cute story. They’re more than that and there’s lots of season left to unfold. GM Kyle Walters watched this game and won’t be sitting still. He’ll be looking for ways to improve. To get bigger and faster and meaner on both his offensive and defensive lines.

Maybe Walters will even find a way to get a little cheaper and dirtier. Turns out, cheap and dirty gets the job done.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Drew Willy goes up and over Saskatchewan Roughriders Ricky Foley (95) Thursday night at Inverstors Group Field in Winnipeg.

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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