November 14, 2018

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Record: 10–8–0

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Blue Bomber Report (10–8–0)

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Bombers strike series of bum notes to lose Banjo Bowl

Turnovers sink out of tune home team

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols looks on as Saskatchewan Roughriders' Willie Jefferson runs for the touchdown after intercepting Nichols' pass in the second quarter Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols looks on as Saskatchewan Roughriders' Willie Jefferson runs for the touchdown after intercepting Nichols' pass in the second quarter Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

There wasn’t much more that needed to be said by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heading into Saturday’s annual Banjo Bowl game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Players promised better execution, a sharper focus on the small details and a ensured a commitment to delivering a full 60-minute effort — the all-too-familiar clichés that have become difficult for fans to digest during the Bombers current skid.

With three straight losses heading into the matinee match against their Prairie rivals, and following a loss against Saskatchewan last week in the Labour Day Classic, one could reckon that none of those promises needed to be met, as long as the end result was a Bombers win. And though nobody could have predicted what would unravel on this day in what was certainly one of the more exciting games this season — and maybe even in recent years — it was once again the Bombers walking away with nothing for their efforts.

Indeed, there was certainly a lot to unload by the final whistle. Neither team finished with the quarterback they started the game with, there was a combined total of six interceptions — three of which were returned for touchdowns — and Bombers receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was carted off the field with an apparent neck injury only to return from the hospital in a cab with his equipment intact.

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There wasn’t much more that needed to be said by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heading into Saturday’s annual Banjo Bowl game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Players promised better execution, a sharper focus on the small details and a ensured a commitment to delivering a full 60-minute effort — the all-too-familiar clichés that have become difficult for fans to digest during the Bombers current skid.

With three straight losses heading into the matinee match against their Prairie rivals, and following a loss against Saskatchewan last week in the Labour Day Classic, one could reckon that none of those promises needed to be met, as long as the end result was a Bombers win. And though nobody could have predicted what would unravel on this day in what was certainly one of the more exciting games this season — and maybe even in recent years — it was once again the Bombers walking away with nothing for their efforts.

Indeed, there was certainly a lot to unload by the final whistle. Neither team finished with the quarterback they started the game with, there was a combined total of six interceptions — three of which were returned for touchdowns — and Bombers receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was carted off the field with an apparent neck injury only to return from the hospital in a cab with his equipment intact.

But through all the chaos, it was the Bombers who fell 32-27, floundering the momentum of their first sold-out crowd of the season at Investors Group Field.

"Talking about it and doing it are two different things and we all got to take a look in the mirror this bye week and rest up, get stronger, as far as getting our bodies right, and this season is still wide open," Bombers running back Andrew Harris said after the game. "The West is still wide open so we just got to look in the mirror and come back with a vengeance."

Quarterback Matt Nichols walks off the field after throwing one of two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the second quarter of the 15th annual Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>

Quarterback Matt Nichols walks off the field after throwing one of two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the second quarter of the 15th annual Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

The Bombers four-game losing streak puts them at 5-7, and the feeling in the room afterwards is that the upcoming bye week couldn’t have come sooner. When they return, it will be in preparation for a game against the lowly Montreal Alouettes, who despite winning their last two games, are tied for last place in the East at 3-8.

As for the Roughriders, they’re trending in a much different direction, with Saturday’s victory their fourth straight to improve to 7-4. After finishing the 2017 campaign in fourth place in the West, Saskatchewan appears primed to make a push for top spot in the division, with much of that potential falling on a formidable defence.

Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols was chased from the game at halftime after committing three interceptions. Two of those picks came with the Bombers in the red zone and both were returned for scores.

Willie Jefferson stepped in front of a pass intended for Harris and returned it 97 yards for the touchdown. Then, with the Bombers holding a 17-13 lead with a minute left in the second quarter, a bad decision by Nichols to throw the ball underhand, in what looked like an attempt to get rid of it, led to Samuel Eguavoen scooping it up low and scampering 103 yards to give the visitors their first lead, 20-17, at halftime.

"Not many people know the feeling I have right now," said Nichols, who was eventually pulled at halftime, finishing the game 10-for-20 passing for 165 yards and three interceptions.

"The feeling you completely let your team down. It sucks."

With three interceptions Saturday, Nichols has seven interceptions in the last three games and 11 on the year — three more than he had all last season. He would have finished with five had one not been called back due to a roughing-the-passer flag and another reversed on a challenge by the Bombers that ended with Saskatchewan getting a pass-interference penalty. Nichols admitted it was the right decision to pull him for the second half, which meant giving the ball to 23-year-old rookie Chris Streveler to help right the ship.

Kenbrell Thompkins gives the thumbs up as he is wheeled off the field during the first half against Saskatchewan Saturday. He would return from the hospital in a cab with his equipment intact. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Kenbrell Thompkins gives the thumbs up as he is wheeled off the field during the first half against Saskatchewan Saturday. He would return from the hospital in a cab with his equipment intact. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

"I'm proud of the way Strev came in and played," Nichols said. "Obviously we had a chance to come away with the win there at the end, but you're not going to win many games when you're turning the ball over and giving them points."

Fans had been clamouring for Streveler to enter the game shortly after Nichols' second interception — a pick by Loucheiz Purifoy that resulted in a field goal by Brett Lauther, who finished a perfect six-for-six — and those jeers only intensified as time ran down in the half. Many of those in attendance seemed so incensed with Nichols’ play that even when he stood on the sidelines for the third quarter, fans booed when his face appeared on the Jumbotron for a PSA against drinking and driving.

"That's not typical Matt Nichols. Matt Nichols has won a pile of games for us and I don't know that he's had a half like that since I've been around him. I don't even know if he's had a half like that in his career, so that's certainly not typical," said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, who, when asked who his starter might be next game, didn’t provide a definitive answer.

Streveler would put together a modest second half, finding the end zone once on a nine-yard pass to rookie receiver Daniel Petermann and on another drive in the fourth quarter led the Bombers to a 39-yard field goal by Justin Medlock. Streveler, who finished 10-for-20 for 160 yards and the touchdown, also had two interceptions of his own, including one late in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the Roughriders win.

"Your job as the backup is to be ready to go no matter what happens. I’ve got the short yardage page there, I can go in at any time in the game," said Streveler, who also added a one-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter for the Bombers lone offensive touchdown in the first half.

"Whenever Matt’s in the game, I’m supportive of him 110 per cent. So when he told me I was going in, my job is to go in there and do the best I can and try to move the ball. So that’s what I tried to do."

The Bombers finished with 375 yards of net offence, with the Roughriders countering with slightly less, at 322 yards. The Bombers struggled to get the run game going, with Harris’s 21 yards second to Nic Demski’s 32 on the ground. Tre Mason led the way for Saskatchewan, racking up 117 yards on 20 carries.

Saskatchewan Roughriders' fans had reason to celebrate at the Banjo Bowl Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan Roughriders' fans had reason to celebrate at the Banjo Bowl Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

What made an ineffective offence tougher to swallow was that the Bombers defence actually showed up.

Of the 20 points surrendered in the first half, 17 of them were off turnovers. In fact, Saskatchewan’s offence, led by quarterback Zach Collaros until he was replaced in the fourth quarter by Brandon Bridge after a crushing hit by Jeff Hecht had him undergo the league’s concussion protocol, was unable to find the end zone once. Instead, it was touchdowns by the defence and the foot of Lauther that provided the points.

The Bombers registered two turnovers in the game, including a pick-six by Anthony Gaitor, who stepped in front of a screen pass intended for Kyran Moore and returned it 55 yards to give the Bombers a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Winnipeg also suffered a number of injuries on defence. Three defensive backs – Chandler Fenner, Gaitor and Brandon Alexander – all missed notable time in the game.

"That’s football, it’s a team game. It’s not like we’re going to hang our hat on the offence and say it’s their fault," said Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill.

"We have 44 active guys on the roster for game day that all need to do their job. That’s what makes it special that when you win it’s a collective effort, you know?"

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.

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History

Updated on Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 9:25 PM CDT: full post-game writethru

9:32 PM: adds more photos

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