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September 21, 2017

Recap: SSK 10, WPG 17

Winnipeg Blue Bombers OL Jermarcus Hardrick and QB Matt Nichols celebrate Nichols' TD against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during second quarter CFL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jason Halstead)

It was a microcosm of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ incredible revival over the last month or so all rolled up in one thrilling, violent, wacky afternoon of entertainment affectionately known as the Banjo Bowl.

Stung by injuries but having replacements step in, using a ball control-efficient offence, and backed by a stingy ball-hawking defence, the Bombers stretched their win streak to six games Saturday afternoon with a lunch pail and hard hat 17-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in front of a capacity crowd of 33,134 at Investors Group Field.

The victory perfectly followed the Bombers’ template of late, and sticking to the script not only means they have their first six-game win streak in one season since the record 12 straight in 2001, but – more importantly – improve to 7-4 and remain very much in the Canadian Football League’s playoff discussion.

Winnipeg is now also four points ahead of the Edmonton Eskimos, 5-6, after their OT loss to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday night and holds down third in the West – two back of the second-place B.C. Lions.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers OL Jermarcus Hardrick and QB Matt Nichols celebrate Nichols' TD against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during second quarter CFL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jason Halstead)

“I’m proud of this team and how we fought to the end and were clawing for everything and able to come up with the plays at the end for that win,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, now 6-0 at the helm.

“It was exactly what we thought it was going to be. We knew it was going to be a tight game. (Saskatchewan) came out ready to play. They did some great things on defence that made it tough for us… everything we got we had to work for. Credit to them, they’re a good football team. They’re better than what their record shows and we couldn’t be happier to get out of here with a win.”

“It shows the maturity of this team to be in a tight game. The defence forces a turnover and we have guys filling in because of injuries… this is a great team win.”

Matt Nichols

It potentially could be a costly one, however, as the Bombers finished the game without running back Andrew Harris, receiver Ryan Smith, linebacker Ian Wild and defensive back/special teams ace Brendan Morgan after all of them left with an assortment of hurts.

But, in what has also been part of the script all season, the Bombers depth players stepped up big time. Linebacker Tony Burnett finished with three tackles and a pair of knockdowns, Pascal Lochard carried five times for 21 yards after Harris’ exit, Julian Feoli-Gudino had two catches for 42 yards, including an acrobatic 38-yarder.

In short, everyone had a piece of that one.

“Be a professional, that’s our job,” said Burnett. “If you want to keep your job, be a professional. For all you guys, if you’re writing bad articles one day your manager is going to say, ‘Hey buddy, yeah… that’s not going to cut it.’

“Our biggest thing is everybody is buying into it, no matter where you are on the depth chart.”

Tony Burnett

The Bombers got another solid effort from Nichols, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 247 yards while rushing five times for 20 yards and two short touchdowns. But the defence was the catalyst in the victory, as Kevin Fogg stripped Riders receiver Caleb Holley at the Bombers’ 16-yard line – the loose ball scooped up by Johnny Adams – to wipe out a potential score with the game tied 10-10. The Bombers then promptly marched 94 yards on six plays before Nichols scored on a one-yard keeper.

“We needed that,” said Fogg of the forced fumble. “I’m glad that play happened because it was a huge momentum shift for us. I’m glad that our offence went down the field and punched it in and that’s how we have to do it. That’s how we have to capitalize off of turnovers and just play off of each other.”

Matt Nichols

“Absolutely that was the turning point,” added Nichols. “It was kind of a stalemate for a long time in the game for both sides, kind of waiting for something to happen it seemed like. Our defence made a great play for us and forced a turnover… we didn’t give it right back to them, we drove down the field as an offence and scored a touchdown and sealed the game.”

The Bombers are home again to Toronto next Saturday, before a final third chunk of the season that has them in Calgary and home to Edmonton before home-and-home matchups with the B.C. Lions and Ottawa REDBLACKS.

Given where this team was just a few weeks ago – at 1-4 and with some vultures circling – having the last seven games mean so much in the standings represents a dramatic turnaround… even if Mike O’Shea & Co. insist on living in the right here and right now.

“Our guys don’t pay attention to ‘six’, or ‘not for some time’ or whatever it is that is talked about outside of our room,” said O’Shea about the win streak. “I mean, it’s one of those things that outsiders will say is hokey, but I think our guys love playing for each other.”

Maurice Leggett

3-MINUTE DRILL

THE BIG STAT

+3: The Bombers forced three more turnovers – the Kevin Fogg strip-Johnny Adams fumble recovery, a turnover on downs when Terrence Frederick crushed Brandon Bridge on a fake field goal attempt, and a fumble recovery by Khalil Bass on the very last play of the game as Kendial Lawrence attempted a lateral.

The Bombers are now an incredible +23 in the turnover ratio, having forced 25 turnovers in the last five games.

THE COACH SAYS

“That was a battle. That was a tough game. There were some guys on their side that went down, too. Nobody likes to see that. We had guys who filled in admirably, just as they did, too. A 17-10 ball game and right down to the last couple plays… that’s the CFL. It’s awesome. I’m proud of our team and the way they fought. It wasn’t a clean game by any means, but I’m proud of the way they battled right down to the end. The fans on both sides, they couldn’t have asked for anything more.” – Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea.

FYI

The six game win streak is the longest since the record 12-game run during the 2001 season, but the Bombers did rack up nine straight at the end of the 2002 and start of 2003 campaigns.

OUCH REPORT

The Bombers finished the game without RB Andrew Harris, SB Ryan Smith, LB Ian Wild and DB Brendan Morgan.

Asked if he had an update, Mike O’Shea was succinct:

“No. Next question.”

All of the Bombers’ injured players will be evaluated by the club’s medical staff, with an update not likely forthcoming until Monday or later next week.

Andrew Harris

NUMBERS GAME

7-6: The Bombers record in the Banjo Bowl after Saturday’s ‘W’.

135: Receiving yardage for Weston Dressler, allowing him to leap frog past four receivers into 32nd place on the CFL’s all-time list. Dressler now has 8,363 career receiving yards and moves past Darrell K. Smith, Stephen Jones, Tom Forzani and Jeff Boyd in one afternoon.

1 for 3: Justin Medlock’s numbers on the day. He had hit 13 of 14 in the last two games, including the dramatic clincher on Labour Day, but missed from 49 and 47 yards on Saturday.

8-5: Matt Nichols’ record as a Bomber starter since being acquired from Edmonton last year.

120: Consecutive pass attempts by Nichols without throwing an interception.

5-30: The Riders now have just five wins in their last 35 games.

NOTABLE

When the Riders opened the scoring on a Tyler Crapigna 13-yard field goal just over six minutes into the game, it marked Saskatchewan’s first first-quarter points in five games.

QUOTABLE

“That was electrifying. We were so glad to be back at home and we’re finally giving the fans something to be proud of. Everybody’s gelling together. You can just tell by the locker room. Everyone’s in here, we’re having fun and we’re comfortable because we know we have each other’s backs.” – Bombers linebacker Maurice Leggett.