It was the kind of retribution many had hoped for but few expected from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Saturday's Banjo Bowl.
The Bombers, one week removed from a 19-17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Labour Day classic, replied with a dominating 35-10 beat down of their Prairie rivals in front of a sold out crowd at IG Field.
Winnipeg dominated in all three phases of the game, getting consistent play from an injury-riddled offence, a special-teams unit that chipped in a touchdown and a defence that has been the driving force all season. The victory improved the Bombers record to 9-3, keeping them atop the West Division and evening the three-game series with the Roughriders to one game apiece. The rubber match is set for Oct. 5 in Regina.
But before we look too far ahead, here are five takeaways from Saturday's win.
1) The odds for success looked bleak after the Bombers, who were already without Matt Nichols (shoulder) and Andrew Harris (suspension), got news receivers Lucky Whitehead and Nic Demski would also be sidelined.
But as has been the case a number of times this season, the Bombers proved the next-man-up mentality is more than just talk. Just look at the contributions from players Saturday who have spent much of the year in backup roles.
Daniel Petermann, playing in relief of Demski, caught all three of his targets for 33 yards, including a five-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Rasheed Bailey, in for Whitehead, made his first CFL start and racked up another 33 yards on five receptions, plus one carry for 10 yards.
Johnny Augustine made his second start for Harris and followed up a 98-yard rushing performance last week by leading the Bombers in both rushing (16 carries, 75 yards) and receiving (2 catches, 63 yards). His 58-yard catch-and-run TD was a thing of beauty, with Augustine capping off the play by diving just far enough break the goal line.
All good teams have strong backup plans and there's no doubting the Bombers are deep.
2) Chris Streveler had his best outing of the season, in what was his third straight start behind centre.
Streveler was far more accurate than he has been this year, competing 71 per cent of his passes (15-for-21) for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores, both of which came on quarterback sneaks near the goal line. The second-year Bomber added 11 carries for 70 yards, including runs of 17 and 21 yards in the first half that had his teammates on the sideline jumping out of their shoes.
What impressed me most were two things: the Bombers’ first drive and the fact Streveler didn’t turn the ball over.
Once Streveler took a sack on the first play, pushing the ball back seven yards to the Bombers’ 3, I immediately ruled out the chance of moving the chains and assumed the Bombers would give up a safety. Instead, Streveler found a seam up the middle and darted for the first down. What ensued was the rest of a 15-play, 102-yard series that Streveler capped off with a punch up the middle. The drive took almost nine minutes off the clock.
Streveler’s numbers could have been even better had he connected on a pair of deep balls to Drew Wolitarsky. But the fact he didn’t make any questionable decisions should have Bombers fans excited for more to come.
3) One sign of every good team is being able to protect home turf. And for years the Bombers had struggled to maintain a true home-field advantage despite having one of the more spirited crowds in the CFL.
That appears to have changed. Saturday’s win was the ninth straight victory at IG Field. That’s the longest stretch since a 10-game win streak between the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
The Bombers are not only winning at home, they’re doing it in convincing fashion. In those nine games, the Bombers have outscored their opponent 291-128 – that’s an average of 32 points for and 14 against per game.
Winnipeg doesn’t have the easiest remaining schedule – all six games are against teams that are destined for the playoffs – but three of them are at home. If the Bombers can remain perfect at IG Field, and can win at least once on the road, a 13-win season should be good enough for tops in the West. That would secure home date for the division final, and then maybe…well, let’s just wait and see.
4) The Bombers defence was the only reason Winnipeg had a chance to win over the Labour Day Weekend – and they knew it, even if they preferred to take the blame for the loss.
Indeed, it was that 11-play, 87-yard series last Sunday, the one that ended with a 26-yard game-winning field goal, that had members of the defensive dozen hanging their collective heads by day’s end. While each owned up to it, they also declared to be much better the second time around – and they were.
The Bombers defence limited the Roughriders to just 10 points, with just one field goal on Saskatchewan’s second drive of the game accounting for their entire scoring in the first half. In fact, the Roughriders finished the first two quarters with just 67 yards of net offence and were limited to just four first downs.
William Powell, arguably the league’s top rusher behind Harris, had four carries for one yard. Cody Fajardo, who finished with 196 passing yards and a rushing touchdown, with much of those yards coming late in the game, was sacked five times. The Roughriders were 27 per cent on second down and had six drives that were two-and-outs.
If that isn’t redemption, I don’t know what is.
5) Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea had already allowed his mind to enter the bye week when I asked him a question about what needed to go right to put forth such a complete game. He admitted as much, noting he was already thinking about his couch and his fridge, joking that it had more than the couple beers in it I had suggested.
The Bombers have played 11 straight weeks and have fared well over that stretch – including eight wins – by maximizing their full lineup. But they need the break as bad as anyone in the league and should come back healthier and energized for the final stretch (Winnipeg’s third bye is the last week of the season).
Harris will be back, of course, and you should see a few other players returning to the field, Demski and Whitehead among them. Jackson Jeffcoat is also a candidate to return practising, and I’d be surprised not to see Brandon Alexander out there as well. Maybe even Patrick Neufeld, who has been progressing well over the last few weeks.
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.