Justin Medlock (9) after the Labour Day game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. Sunday, September 4, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)
REGINA – The longest-running horror show on the Canadian Prairies – mercifully for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their faithful – has come to an end.
The Bombers ended an 11-year Labour Day drought Sunday afternoon with a 28-25 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders that served up enough drama in the final minutes to put the ‘Classic’ back in the weekend’s title game.
Justin Medlock nailed a 43-yard field goal with zeroes on the clock to seal the victory, Winnipeg’s fifth in a row. The result not only ends a Labour Day nightmare for the Bombers that goes back to 2004, but improves them to 6-4 in the standings.
“They got me into a good position and then you’ve just got to do your job, that’s the biggest thing,” said Medlock. “That’s what my old coach back in Hamilton said, ‘Do your job.’
“That’s what I wanted to do, come through for them and it happened. That was exciting to get an opportunity. I had a feeling it was going to come down to me, especially when it was 19-11 that it was going to come down to this or some kind of kick that was going to be important.”
Medlock finished the day seven for eight in field goals, seeing his club record consecutive makes mark stop at 22, but then stepping up when it mattered most. The seven makes tied a club record first set by Trevor Kennerd in a game against Toronto back in 1981.
“He’s clutch,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “Obviously the offence would like to be cleaner, but we’ll take this win any way we can get it.
“I’m happy for the guys. They won a tough game. I think we made it a little tougher on ourselves, but to bounce back from giving up a punt-return touchdown and then drive the field to put us in position for the winning field goal with no time on the clock… it’s awesome. It’s awesome.”
“We’ll fix our mistakes, but that’s to take nothing away from our guys or the Riders. That was a good battle.”
It was a fitting conclusion to a Labour Day game that has been sorely lacking any drama of late – during the 11-game Riders win streak the average margin of victory was 18 – the Bombers looked to have snatched defeat from the claws of victory in the day’s critical moments.
The Bombers were up 25-19 with 2:42 left when cornerback C.J. Roberts made an incredible interception on the Winnipeg one-yard line to snuff out a scoring chance. And after the Bombers had taken one minute and 33 seconds off the clock with a pair of critical first downs, Medlock crushed a 60-yard punt.
That’s when the craziness reached its zenith.
Kendial Lawrence gobbled up Medlock’s punt and then zigged and zagged through the Bombers for an 85-yard touchdown that evened the score with 69 second left.
But where the football gods have often abandoned the Bombers in years past, they instead graced the visitors as Tyler Crapigna’s convert attempt was wide.
Winnipeg got the ball back on its 42-yard line with 43 seconds left and, after a pass interference call on Justin Cox and a pair of runs by Andrew Harris, was in position for Medlock’s late heroics.
“That was crazy,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, who finished the day 27 of 39 for 341 yards and one TD – an 82-yard strike to Quincy McDuffie of the last minute. “We moved the ball off our goal line after an amazing interception by our defence. You’re thinking the game is pretty well in hand with 40 seconds left and then… I’ve played a lot of years with Kendial Lawrence in Edmonton and I know what he can do. It didn’t surprise me that he was able to take one back.
“As an offence we knew we had to get it out to midfield for Justin to have a chance at it. We made completions, the pass-interference call and that got us down into field goal range and then Justin did what he’s been doing all year and hammered it right down the middle.
“He’s as automatic as it gets.”
The game was an emotional one for Weston Dressler, who returned to Regina after eight years as a Rider and finished the day with seven catches for 77 yards. The building was filled with fans still sporting a few green Dressler jerseys… and a few new blue ones, too.
“What a wild game, huh?” said Dressler, now unbeaten in his nine Labour Day Classics, with a grin. “Just the way that game finished, I’m so proud of our team right now, the way we battled to the end.
“(The Riders) fought back and fought hard and you knew they were going to do that on Labour Day. Darian (Durant) is on the other side and you know he’s going to put something together.
“That’s just a great team win for us. We all took our turns making mistakes, but all took our turns picking each other up.”
The Bombers lost a long-time friend and member of their family on Sunday when Jerry Maslowsky passed away after a battle with cancer.
Maslowsky, 58, was an executive with the Bombers for 15 years and, as Vice President of Marketing, helped the club reach record levels in sponsorship and ticketing while being instrumental in campaigns that included the Banjo Bowl.
He was last working as the CEO of Variety, the Children’s Charity of Manitoba in a career that included time with CKND-TV, CJOB and the Pan Am Games and he remained a loyal fan of the Bombers until his passing.
In a tribute to one of the most popular employees in Bombers history, the players wore a ‘JM’ decal on their helmets during Sunday’s Labour Day Classic. Tributes for the man were all over social media when the news broke Sunday and the Riders took a moment in the pre-game with an announcement to mention him and his importance to the Bomber organization.
And, for the record, he would have absolutely loved the finish Sunday.
THE BIG STAT
7: As in the number of field goals for Justin Medlock on the day, including a 43 yarder with no time left for the win. Medlock has now hit 13 field goals in the last two weeks, going 13 for 14 overall.
The Bombers again won the turnover battle, forcing four (two interceptions and two on downs) to improve their turnover ratio on the season to +20.
82: The length of the Matt Nichols-to-Quincy McDuffie TD pass in the second quarter, the longest play from scrimmage for the Bombers this season.
22: Justin Medlock’s consecutive field goal streak stopped at 22 after a second quarter attempt from 44 yards out clanged off the left upright. The streak did establish a new Bombers record.
399: Passing yards for the Riders’ Durant, who remains winless as a starter this season.
6-1: Durant’s record in Labour Day Classics after the loss Sunday.