They stood in the centre of the ring and traded punch after punch with the champs, bruising them, hurting them occasionally, but — alas — never putting them on the canvas.
And so these upstart Winnipeg Blue Bombers learned a valuable lesson in Thursday’s 23-17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in front of a sellout crowd of 33,234 at Investors Group Field:
Never, ever let your guard down... even for just a second.
The Riders weren’t perfect Thursday, but they were when it mattered, gobbling up six Bomber turnovers and parlaying them into 19 points. The mistakes — three Drew Willy interceptions, fumbles by the Bomber QB and Demond Washington on a kickoff return and a turnover on downs on the game’s last play — were especially costly and spoiled a solid effort by Winnipeg’s defensive dozen.
The result makes the ultra-competitive West Division that much tighter, as the Riders improve to 4-2 — just two points behind the Bombers, now 5-2.
TWO PLAYS, TWO MISTAKES, TWO POINTS LOST
Winnipeg led 10-3 late in the third quarter and, backed by the work of Gary Etcheverry’s defence, had the Riders completely flummoxed. But here’s where good ol’ Mo switched sides:
On second and 10 from their 28, Willy was sacked by Tearrius George and fumbled. The mistake was scooped up by defensive end David Lee, who then rumbled 13 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Riders back in a game the Bombers had been owning.
❚ To compound things, on the ensuing kickoff Demond Washington was stripped of the ball by Paul Woldu and it was recovered by Chaz Schillens. And while the Bomber defence stiffened, Chris Milo’s 10-yard field goal early in the fourth put the Riders ahead 13-10.
A RALLY FALLS SHORT
Willy, who will need a team of massueses to deal with all the bumps and bruises after this one, rallied to pump some life back into the Bombers by connecting with Clarence Denmark for a 58-yard bomb that set up a five-yard strike to Rory Kohlert that put the home side ahead 17-16.
But just as the south side of Winnipeg was coming alive, the moment was short-lived. Backed up deep in their own end, Willy was read perfectly by Riders cornerback Terrell Maze, who jumped a pass route to intercept the Bomber pivot and return it 28 yards for the decisive score.
It wasn’t the only mistake the Bombers QB made on the night, but it certainly was the biggest.
A LITTLE RESPECT
The Bombers, to a man, have spit out the same mantra since Day 1 of training camp: The only opinions that matter come from within their walls. Fair enough. But it’s clear respect is hard-earned when a team is coming off a 3-15 season that featured enough sideshows to make Ringling Bros. green with envy.
Maybe that was part of the Riders’ motivation when, during the pre-game festivities, they camped out at the 40-yard line during the Bomber introduction and began dancing and jawing at the home side. They are the defending champs, after all, and they wanted the Bombers to be reminded of that. Not surprisingly, that tactic had an already-amped up Bomber squad foaming at the mouth as the officials had step in to prevent a melee that would have come straight from the script of Slapshot.
In the end, it had no impact on the outcome, of course,
But if the Bombers hadn’t earned the respect of the champs before the game, they most certainly had it after.
Finally, this: As mistake-filled as the night was, it left everyone in the park — and likely those watching on TV — wanting more. Circle Aug. 31 and Sept. 7 on your calendar, football fans. The Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl just got a whole lot more interesting.