October 19, 2018

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Record: 9–7–0

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Blue Bomber Report (9–7–0)

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Big Blue turns tables on Gang Green

Roughriders blanked in dominant Bombers performance

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Matt Nichols finished the game 10-for-18 for 155 yards and one touchdown.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Matt Nichols finished the game 10-for-18 for 155 yards and one touchdown.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers haven’t just played themselves back into the conversation as Grey Cup contenders; they’re right near the top of the pack.

The Bombers, riding a three-game winning streak but with their playoff backs against the wall heading into Saturday’s matinee against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, delivered the kind of beat down to their prairie rival not seen in these parts for some time.

The Blue and Gold connected on some heavy blows early and often, only to wear out their opponent down the stretch, putting together their most complete game of the 2018 season in 31-0 shellacking at Investors Group Field.

Indeed, Winnipeg received contributions from all three phases, but it was the dominant performance by the defence that will be talked about most. The defence forced four turnovers, registered four sacks — three from linebacker Adam Bighill — scored a touchdown and achieved the near-impossible task in the CFL of shutting out an opponent.

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers haven’t just played themselves back into the conversation as Grey Cup contenders; they’re right near the top of the pack.

The Bombers, riding a three-game winning streak but with their playoff backs against the wall heading into Saturday’s matinee against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, delivered the kind of beat down to their prairie rival not seen in these parts for some time.

The Blue and Gold connected on some heavy blows early and often, only to wear out their opponent down the stretch, putting together their most complete game of the 2018 season in 31-0 shellacking at Investors Group Field.

Indeed, Winnipeg received contributions from all three phases, but it was the dominant performance by the defence that will be talked about most. The defence forced four turnovers, registered four sacks — three from linebacker Adam Bighill — scored a touchdown and achieved the near-impossible task in the CFL of shutting out an opponent.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Darvin Adams and Weston Dressler celebrate Adams' touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Darvin Adams and Weston Dressler celebrate Adams' touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half.

"It’s been a growing process, and there’s always going to be some growing pains," Bighill said after the game, when asked what has changed on defence over the year. "I’m just proud of our defence and just the way we’ve continued to step up these last four weeks now and really prove who we are and who we’re going to be. It’s still not done, there’s still more work to do, but we’re on the right journey and this doesn’t end until the end of November. We’re taking it one game at a time to get there."

Just how rare has it been for the Bombers to pitch a shutout? The last time Winnipeg blanked an opponent was on July 28, 2006, in a 29-0 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It has been more than 32 years — July 5, 1986 — since Winnipeg had shut out Saskatchewan on home soil, winning that game 56-0.

"I’ve been a part of games where our defence played good enough for a shutout, but maybe there was a single scored at some point. To have no points scored is unbelievable effort by our defence," Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols said, grinning, as if to prepare reporters for his next comment. "They’ve been playing unbelievable football, and I would like to think we prepare them well all week at practice."

With the win, the Bombers have now earned victories in four straight games, improving to 9-7 on the season to remain in third place in the West Division. The win also keeps the Bombers on the heels of the second-place Roughriders, who dropped to 10-6 with the loss and snapped a three-game winning streak.

It wasn’t long ago that Winnipeg was mired in a four-game losing streak, a stretch that had many doubting whether a playoff berth was in their future, let alone a bid at snapping a 27-year Grey Cup drought. But the Bombers are back in the driver’s seat, and have been one of the hottest teams in the CFL after knocking off Montreal, Edmonton, East-Division leading Ottawa and now the Roughriders.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Chris Streveler (17) runs for the first down against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the second half.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Chris Streveler (17) runs for the first down against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the second half.

Saturday also provided a bit of revenge for Winnipeg after losing twice to the Roughriders earlier in the year. The way the playoff picture looks now, it’s likely these two teams will meet again in the playoffs, with the Bombers travelling to Regina for the West semifinal.

"They beat us two games, we beat ’em one," safety Taylor Loffler said. "So, we just have to come out and be ready to see ’em again in playoffs, and get the win there."

The Bombers opened the scoring with a fumble-recovery touchdown by Anthony Gaitor, who returned the ball 45 yards to put Winnipeg up 7-0 five minutes and 22 seconds into the game. That seemed to set the tone for the defence, especially Loffler, who had two interceptions on Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros before the first half was over.

The Bombers offence was unable to turn Loffler’s first interception into points, but did get on the scoreboard the series after. Nichols connected with Darvin Adams for a 72-yard score on the first play of the drive, giving Winnipeg a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Nichols, who was a modest 10-for-18 for 155 yards and the lone touchdown, didn’t need to be great, nor did the rest of the offence for that matter. Consider this: Adams led all receivers with the 72 yards collected on the touchdown. And backup quarterback Chris Streveler, who eventually replaced Nichols late in the third quarter, was the leading rusher with seven carries for 45 yards.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kevin Fogg (3) jumps on the loose ball fumbled by Saskatchewan Roughriders' Caleb Holley (88) during the second half. </p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kevin Fogg (3) jumps on the loose ball fumbled by Saskatchewan Roughriders' Caleb Holley (88) during the second half.

Streveler would do most of his damage in the first half, however, while doing spot duty for Nichols on short-yardage packages. Facing a second-and-short with fewer than three minutes to go before the half, the Bombers pulled an audible on the run and, instead, Streveler threw a 31-yard dart to Weston Dressler in the end zone.

Not long after that, Streveler, back on the field for a first-and-10 on the Roughriders’ 25-yard line, faked a handoff to Andrew Harris then spun a 360 before rushing up the middle for a 24-yard gain. He finished the job on the next play, punching in a one-yard touchdown that improved the Bombers’ lead to 31-0 at halftime.

"We all know Chris Streveler can run our offence, and he’s a good football player and he has some different attributes, different skill sets than Matt," Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. "It’s good the way we’re utilizing them. The number of plays I think is perfect."

That would set the stage for a defensive battle in the second half, with both teams ending the final two quarters scoreless. By the time the fourth quarter came around, Nichols was out and so was Harris, who was replaced by Kienan LaFrance after just 10 carries for 36 yards — a number that will make it tough to catch Ottawa’s William Powell for the rushing title with two games remaining.

As for the Riders, head coach Chris Jones gave Collaros, who finished a dismal eight-for-19 for 69 yards and two interceptions, one more series in the second half before calling on backup Brandon Bridge. Bridge didn’t fare much better, putting up 69 yards on seven-of-12 passing as the Bombers allowed the Roughriders just 170 yards on net offence (Winnipeg had 333).

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Tempers get a little hot as Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kenbrell Thompkins (2) goes up against part of the Saskatchewan Roughriders team after CFL action and defeating the Roughriders 31-0 in Winnipeg Saturday, October 13, 2018.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Tempers get a little hot as Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kenbrell Thompkins (2) goes up against part of the Saskatchewan Roughriders team after CFL action and defeating the Roughriders 31-0 in Winnipeg Saturday, October 13, 2018.

"It was a similar feel to the Edmonton game, where you can feel right away how well your defence is playing," Nichols said.

"Our defence had a couple turnovers and scored on defence, so when you get a feel for that kind of game, you kind of just want to let them go do their thing and not put them in any bad situations."

The Bombers are now on the bye and will return to practice the following week. They host the first-place Calgary Stampeders Oct. 26.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at 4:48 PM CDT: Typos fixed.

6:50 PM: Writethru

12:35 AM: Edited

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