REGINA — They have been pummelled to a pulp and had their collective hearts ripped out. They have been oh-so close and they’ve been positively embarrassed.
But the script and the theme remains exactly the same for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their annual trip west for the annual Labour Day Classic battle against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Loss after loss after loss after loss...
Officially, Sunday’s 35-30 defeat in front of 33,427 at Mosaic Stadium was the club’s 10th straight defeat in this annual get together. And the sting and frustration from this edition of the Classic — the winning score came with 55 ticks left on the clock — was so obvious in the Bomber locker room afterward it left you with one key question:
Just how many curse words can a club spit out in the six-hour stretch of the Trans Canada between Regina and Winnipeg, anyway?
"It’s not good. We’re not happy," said linebacker Ian Wild. "We’re not satisfied. We don’t want to just hang with them. We want to beat them. No one is happy in here."
The Bombers, who have now lost three of their last four to fall to 6-4, will take no solace in the fact that they helped put the ‘Classic’ back in Labour Day Classic on Sunday, rallying from a 21-7 deficit with just over four minutes left in the third quarter to grab a 30-28 lead with 2:58 left in the game.
But in a scene that was familiar to fans who watched the Riders run the ball at will against the Bomber defence back on Aug. 7th in a 23-17 loss, Saskatchewan moved the ball 75 yards when it mattered — six of the seven plays along the ground — and sealed their sixth straight win to improve to 7-2 on a 15-yard TD run by Anthony Allen with 28 seconds left.
The Riders finished with 160 yards along the ground against the Bombers, giving them a two-game rushing total of 346.
"I’m sure that people aren’t going to agree with me, but I’m not concerned about it," said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea about the team’s run defence. "No, I’m not."
Asked to explain, he added:
"Because we’re here and we’re in the game and I understand what’s going on more than what people see on film. That’s it. I’m not worried about it."
The Bombers got TD runs from Nic Grigsby and Drew Willy, three field goals by Lirim Hajrullahu and a spectacular 64-yard punt return for a score by Troy Stoudemire. But there were also enough Bomber mistakes to fill a lowlight reel.
"We didn’t play a full 60 minutes," said O’Shea. "I thought we did very well in the second half and it gave us a real nice chance to win, but we didn’t do enough in the first half.
"We went into the half down seven, but there must have been five plays in a row where there just weren’t good decisions, there weren’t good outcomes, there wasn’t good execution. But we go into the half down seven...
"We lost. It’s frustrating. We need to play 60 minutes. If we do anything after that first or second drive, if we do anything in the second quarter, if we eliminate any of the mistakes in the second quarter that pinned us down there it’s a different outcome."
The Riders win means they have won the season series between the two clubs in advance of next week’s Banjo Bowl when they meet again in Winnipeg.
"Our defence... we didn’t play a good game," said Bomber linebacker EJ Kuale. "A lot of mistakes.
"You’ve got to give credit Saskatchewan on that last drive. But they didn’t beat us with the run this game, I’ll say that myself. Quote, unquote: they did not beat us with the run. WE beat ourselves."
And, again, that brings us back to the theme that this one will stick in some craws for a long while this week. The Bombers have played the Grey Cup champions twice in the last month, and have lost by a combined total of 11 points.
"They’re not the champs this year," said Kuale. "In football, you leave the past in the past. It’s 2014. We have to get eliminate our mistakes. We need to spend extra time in the film room. We need to stay after hours and work on some things.
"It’s crunch time now."