Blue can thrive from 55
Marc Liegghio comes through with longest field goal of career as Bombers win Labour Day Classic
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REGINA – Up against a packed house in a hostile environment, with more than 33,000 fans cheering for him to miss, and from a distance he’s never before been asked to kick from, Marc Liegghio proved all the doubters wrong.
Trailing 18-17 with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bombers second-year kicker sailed a 55-yard field goal through the uprights for what proved to be the game-sealing points in a 20-18 Blue Bombers victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the annual Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium Sunday night.
“I went out there telling myself ‘I don’t need to rush, I don’t need to do anything different, just go out there and smash it,’” Liegghio said after the game. “As soon as it came off my foot it felt really good, and I saw it just travelling on the line it was travelling and once it went through it was just a great feeling looking at all my teammates. They told me they were walking out before it even went in; they just knew as soon as I kicked it.”
Liegghio had faced heavy criticism in recent weeks after he missed a pair of field goals in a home loss to the Montreal Alouettes in Week 10, including a 32-yarder with no time remaining that would have clinched the win. On Sunday, his teammates were singing his praises, and Liegghio was all smiles after coming through in the clutch in front of a raucous crowd, while also setting a career best for distance.
The 25-year-old’s longest kick up to that point was 50 yards, which he achieved in 2021, with his longest kick this year coming from 48 yards. In three games since his meltdown against the Alouettes, Liegghio is three-for-three on field goals and six-for-six on one-point converts from the 32-yard line.
“It’s paramount,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said when asked the impact of the support Liegghio has received from the teammates. “This is what building a team is all about and, trust me, they’re in charge of it. And they do a damn good job of it.”
While Liegghio’s kick put the Bombers ahead, giving them their first lead of the game, it was the defence that set the stage for him to play the hero.
The Roughriders had taken over the ball with three minutes remaining and promptly moved it down field and into the range of kicker Brett Lauther, who had already connected on field goals from 47, 30 and 41 yards, respectively. But on first-and-10 from Winnipeg’s 26-yard line, Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo was intercepted by Bombers safety Nick Hallett at the 14.
Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson had applied heavy pressure, forcing Fajardo to release the ball early, and it was deflected by the right hand of Roughriders running back Frankie Hickson and into the arms of Hallett. It was the first interception by the Bombers offence since Montreal’s Trevor Harris threw two exactly a month ago.
“He felt us tonight, and that’s something that we wanted to do all game. We got to him a lot in the second half,” Jefferson said. “We were just trying to get him off his spot. We knew he was going to try and spin out. We had something for that and then it was trying to get him to throw some errant passes into coverage. We got that, too.”
The victory improved the Bombers to 11-1 on the year, building on their position atop the West Division. Winnipeg also clinched a playoff berth, with six games remaining in the regular season.
The Roughriders fell to 6-6, keeping them in fourth place in the West, behind Winnipeg, B.C. (8-2) and Calgary (6-4). Only 3-8 Edmonton has a worse record.
While the Bombers leave victorious, the Roughriders looked like the team destined to win, at least early on. Saskatchewan had a 14-0 edge early in the second quarter after getting a touchdown from Fajardo, who punched in a quarterback sneak to cap off the game’s first drive, with the rest of the points coming off the leg of Lauther.
The Bombers exploded for 17 points in the second quarter, on touchdowns from Nic Demski and Dalton Schoen before Liegghio connected from 32 yards out to even the score, 17-17, at halftime.
Demski reeled in a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass from Zach Collaros for the 50-yard score, while Schoen snagged a throw near the sideline of the end zone, just able to keep his toes in play for a nine-yard touchdown. Collaros, who gave up a fumble late in the first quarter, finished the game 15-for-24 passing for 214 yards and the two TDs.
“Both teams were very physical, had good plans. We’ve got to do a better job of staying on the football field, being more efficient on first down, but I thought we scored big touchdowns when we got the opportunities. We were able to move the ball in the fourth quarter a little bit and (Liegghio) made a big kick for us,” Collaros said.
“Great job all-around I thought, all three phases. How about the defence? It was 17-17 at half-time and they didn’t give up a point — or gave up one point. Unbelievable job by them.”
Of Fajardo’s 292 passing yards, 163 came in the first half. While the Roughriders were able to move the ball at times with ease, they had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Saskatchewan finished with 379 yards of net offence, with Winnipeg registering 289. The Bombers D was particularly stingy on second down, with Saskatchewan converting just 35 per cent (7-for-20).
A portion of the Roughriders downfall was self-inflicted. Mostly because of penalties, with Saskatchewan having 12 totalling 99 yards.
No penalty was worse than the one Roughriders receiver Duke William’s took, in a game he wasn’t even playing in. Dressed in street clothes owing to an ankle injury, Williams got into the face of a Winnipeg defender after he made a play near the Saskatchewan sideline and was assessed a 10-yard penalty.
The Roughriders had pushed the ball into Winnipeg’s end late in the fourth, only for William’s to push them back. Two plays later, following an incomplete pass, the Roughriders were out of field goal range and were forced to punt.
“I can tell you this much moving forward, there will be no players on the bench area that aren’t either playing or thoroughly involved in coaching because that was very disappointing,” Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson said. “That hurt us, and it hurt us bad. It was a stupid penalty and Duke feels bad about it and he should. Hopefully he’s expressed that to his teammates.”
Neither side will have to wait long to see each other, with a rematch scheduled next week in the annual Banjo Bowl at IG Field Saturday afternoon.
“That environment was amazing. That’s exactly what we was expecting and that’s exactly what we wanted,” Jefferson said. “We wanted to come in and play a hard-nosed football game that we know we’re going to get every time we come here. When they come to us next week, it’s going to be the same thing.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Monday, September 5, 2022 9:39 AM CDT: Adds web headline
Updated on Monday, September 5, 2022 1:32 PM CDT: Corrects typo