REGINA — The dates change. Some of the faces, too. But the script continues to remain the same for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers: they have become the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card, the three-down loop’s version of the 98-pound weakling.
Oh sure, there was a stretch in Sunday’s 51st Labour Day Classic when the Bombers — some 14½-point underdogs heading in — looked like they might have the 44,910 at Mosaic Stadium and the bookies in Vegas sweating.
Leading 17-7 late in the second quarter and getting spirited play from their defence and some solid quarterbacking from Justin Goltz, the Bombers were authoring what would have constituted the biggest upset of the first half of the CFL schedule.
And then, as has so often been the case this season and last, the roof completely collapsed on the visitors as the Saskatchewan Roughriders out-scored their opponents 31-8 in the final 32 minutes en route to a 48-25 win.
Winnipeg is now 1-8 after having dropped their seventh straight game and ninth-consecutive Labour Day Classic.
A for silver linings, don’t go there with Chad Simpson...
"This game isn’t about hanging with people. We’ve got to win," said the Bomber running back. "There were a couple of moments in the game where we could have taken over and won. That’s what pro ball comes down to, single plays. Your practice all week for that single play that can change the game and then we didn’t come up with what we needed to come up with.
"You always try to find positives. Yes, we did good. But we’ve done good against B.C. and fought against real good teams before. We did it last year, we did it this year. It’s not about taking the positives out a could-have won game. That can go on for maybe two or three games but when it keeps happening... what positives can you take out of that?"
The Riders got two touchdowns each from Kory Sheets, Taj Smith and Geroy Simon as Darian Durant threw for 310 yards and four scores against the Bombers as Saskatchewan moved to 8-1 for the first time in franchise history.
Goltz, making his third pro start, ran for two TDs for Winnipeg while Jason Boltus also kept on one-yard QB keeper for Winnipeg’s three majors. The Bombers also got a safety when Henoc Muamba swallowed up Sheets in the end zone for the first points of the game.
Goltz connected with eight different receivers in the game while completing 18 of 29 passes for 182 yards, but also tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions that snuffed out any hope of a Bomber comeback, the first coming with the visitors trailing 31-25.
"I have to look at it and roll with the good," said Goltz. "I know I’m a good football player. That’s never crossed my mind, regardless of what’s happened. But I feel terrible about what happened in the second half and I feel like I made some crucial mistakes that put my team at a disadvantage.
"In the first half, I feel like I took it one play at a time and didn’t force stuff. And then come crunch time I feel like I pressed."
Still, for as much as the Bombers traded blows with the CFL’s heavyweight in the first half, they have now lost their last three games by 19, 23 and 23-point margins. During the seven-game losing streak, five of the losses have been by double digits.
"Guys on this team know we can win," insisted Jovon Johnson afterward. "We’ve got to stick together and play it out. We’re a much better team than what our record indicates. As everybody can see, we just played the best team in the league and held them to 14 points in the first half and if it wasn’t for the mistakes in the second half would have had a chance to win the game.
"We can’t fall apart in the second half of games and learn to finish teams off and just keep competing and plugging away at it. Once we get a break, I think things will change for us a little bit."