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September 5, 2016

Upon Further Review: WPG at SSK

Khalil Bass (2) during 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)

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We heard it first while trying to maneuver through a crowded, noisy, and frenetic Winnipeg Blue Bombers dressing room at Mosaic Stadium in Regina late Sunday afternoon.

It was said softly, but with conviction.

“That one’s for Jerry.”

Now, yours truly didn’t catch who uttered those words in the chaotic moments not long after a thrilling, bizarre, controversial, and emotionally-charged Labour Day Classic that saw the Bombers emerge with a 28-25 victory.

But we heard it again – or a variation of it – from Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea a little later.

“Jerry would have loved that.”

We saw it come in tweets from current and former Blue Bomber players all afternoon, from staffers with the football club, and from folks all across the Canadian Football League.

It was heartfelt. And it put a lump in the throats and brought tears to the eyes of anyone who was fortunate enough to have known the man.

Jerry Maslowsky didn’t just work for the Blue Bombers for 15 years as a marketing whiz and vice president. He was a lifelong fan of the football club who savoured every victory and felt every loss as much as anyone, from the coaches to the players to the most dedicated diehard.

It was Sunday morning, about three hours before kickoff, when the football club was officially informed of Maslowsky’s passing after a battle with cancer.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers helmet before 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)

Plans were already in place for the players to wear a ‘JM’ decal on the back of their helmets for the game, and TSN had pieced together a tribute, hoping those gestures would bring a little sunshine into the man’s day should he be watching the telecast or listening to CJOB’s Bob Irving and Doug Brown from his hospital bed.

But cancer doesn’t adhere to anyone’s timetable. And so by kickoff, the emotions and tensions that come with every football game, particularly Labour Day, also now included heavy doses of somber.

Maybe this all sounds too maudlin or dramatic to some. So be it.

Let it be said that, yes, the Bombers left way too many points on the field Sunday afternoon, settling for seven Medlock field goals that tied a club record, including the dramatic winner with zeroes on the clock.

No question, the Bombers were fortunate that Tyler Crapigna missed a convert after Kendial Lawrence’s 82-yard punt return touchdown with 69 seconds remaining, which would have put the Riders up 26-25.

And it’s true, the pass interference call on Justin Cox that wiped out an interception and moved the ball into Saskatchewan territory with 34 seconds left was botched by the officiating crew, further fuelling conspiracy theories in Rider Nation that anyone and everyone is out to get them this year.

Those are all juicy talking points in the wake of another Labour Day Classic on the Prairies, all of which will feed into the narrative for this Saturday’s Banjo Bowl at what should be a jam-packed Investors Group Field.

And you know what? Jerry would have loved that, too.

Teague Sherman (27) before 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)

More on the Labour Day Classic victory with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call ‘Upon Further Review’:

WATCHING THE BOMBERS LOSE 11 STRAIGHT… on Labour Day had many wondering what kind of crazy combination of minor miracles and acts of God it would take for the visitors to exit Mosaic with a victory.

The missed Crapigna convert and the Cox pass interference call have folks to the West of us in a lather, and with good reason. But the Bombers have been there, too. A year ago they were cursing an officials’ call late in a 25-23 loss to Calgary, Lirim Hajrullahu’s four missed field goals and a missed convert – coupled with Sean Whyte’s career-long 53 yarder with no time left in a 24-23 defeat to Edmonton a week later. Those two results alone could have turned a 5-13 into 7-11 and had the Bombers in the playoff discussion into late October.

That could be partly why, in the post-game, O’Shea was quick to wave off a question about not finishing drives.

“I’ll take this win. Anyway we can get it, I’ll take this win,” he said. “No concern. We’re winning games. It ain’t easy. We’re winning games.”

Matt Nichols (15) and Andrew Harris (33) before 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)

THAT SAID, BOMBERS QB MATT NICHOLS… did touch on the lack of finish in the score zone in his scrum. Medlock’s seven field goals tied a club record – first set by Trevor Kennerd in 1981 – and came from distances of 44, 25, 29, 18, 52, 41 and 43.

“It was big time back and forth and I felt like we didn’t really handle the things we talked about before the game,” said Nichols. “We need to score touchdowns, not field goals and we scored 28 points with only one touchdown. That’s telling you we’re not finishing drives. We need to do a much better job of that on offence. The last couple of weeks we had the opportunity to put a team away earlier and you let him them hang around and you’re going to have finishes like that.”

“We’re going to correct a few things and make sure we finish off some drives a little bit better.”

As we pointed out Sunday in our game recap, Medlock has gone 13 of 14 in the last two weeks. That represents a lot of stalled drives. It also flies in the face of those who suggested the Bombers had over-spent in free agency when they went out and grabbed the most accurate kicker in CFL history.

The margin for error with this team has been thin and will continue to be as it works to become a West Division player again. Medlock, therefore, is worth every nickel.

“He’s a huge weapon for us,” said Nichols, “and again, I’d like not to have to use him as much as we do and have him kick more extra points.”

Justin Medlock (9) and Matt Nichols (15) during 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)

JUST FYI… Medlock has now tied or set three different Bomber placekicking records this season. He had made 22 consecutive field goals prior to hitting the upright in the second quarter, setting a new standard. He hit a 58 yarder in the opener to tie Bernie Ruoff’s club record (set in 1975) and tied Kennerd’s seven-makes in one game record on Sunday.

Medlock is also on pace, with 126 points on field goals, converts and converts, that he could threaten Troy Westwood’s 1994 record of 213 points in a season. Of course, the club would kill if he was kicking more converts than threes.

Just to cement how good he has been, consider that he is 34 of 39 this year with his misses have been from 47, 51, 50, 49 and 44 (the 47 and 44-yard attempts hit the upright).

THERE HAVE BEEN FLASHES OF QUINCY McDUFFIE’S… speed through the first chunk of the season, but there was no better example of the deep threat he brings to the offence than his 82-yard touchdown pass Sunday.

It was the longest play from scrimmage for the Bombers offence this year and showed McDuffie’s ability to separate from defenders both before and after the ball is in the air.

“LaPo (offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice) dialed that play up and we executed tremendously,” said McDuffie. “From the waggle I just kind of lined (the defender) up and then I knew I had the inside route so I had to set him up outside even more and the rest is history. My eyes just lit up when I saw the end zone and I knew it was a big-time gain and I just wanted to go all out and get it in for the touchdown.

“Full credit to the team, man.”

Quincy McDuffie (14) and Jeff Hecht (24) during 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)

THOSE TURNOVER TOTALS… keep climbing for the Bombers after Sunday’s win. Winnipeg has now forced a league-high 37 turnovers after adding four more against the Riders, including two fourth-quarter interceptions by Johnny Adams and C.J. Roberts. The Bombers finished +4 in the turnover department, pushing their season takeaway-giveaway ratio to +20.

But defensive back Bruce Johnson doesn’t just see his crew morphing into a ball-hawking defence. He sees a team that is flashing a resiliency that has been sorely lacking in recent years.

“That finish showed a lot of character and how this team is going to keep fighting,” said Johnson. “We always we feel we have a chance and, to me, it shows how much we’re coming together.

“A lot of times in the past couple of years, close games like that, we wouldn’t come out on top. We’ve got confidence right now and I can’t tell you how great that feels.”

Weston Dressler (7) during 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)

IT WOULD HAVE MADE FOR A HECKUVA… tale if Weston Dressler had found the end zone on Sunday, especially with so many Rider faithful in attendance still sporting their green ‘7’ jerseys.

And it’s not like the Bombers didn’t attempt to get him a touchdown against his old club.

“I don’t know if it was a game plan thing, but obviously we had some things dialed up for Weston,” said Matt Nichols. “I felt like I threw a couple bad balls to him, corner route that should have been a touchdown that he almost came up with – which would have been an unbelievable catch – and then another that I threw a bit too far outside. Those were two opportunities for him that would have been easy touchdowns that I missed.

“I would have liked to have gotten him in the end zone.”

Here’s a meaty number to munch on while weighing Dressler’s impact with the Bombers: he had seven more catches for 77 yards against the Riders and, in his last 3 ½ games (he was injured before halftime in the July 28th win over Edmonton), he has 32 receptions for 373 yards.

That’s a ton of production for the future hall of famer.

Understandably, Dressler was wrestling with his own emotions before, during and after Sunday’s game.

“They were all over the place,” he said with a smile post-game. “It’s such a special place to me. Being here eight years, so many great memories and this is the last time we get to play on this field. It’s nice to get the win.”

Oh, and one more thing: Dressler is unbeaten in his nine Labour Day Classic games.