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July 2, 2017

Game Recap | WPG 43, SSK 40

Picture: Arthur Ward

REGINA – The Saskatchewan Roughriders threw a housewarming party Saturday night, but it was the guests – their arch-nemesis neighbours to the east, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – who ended the night dancing on tables.

The Bombers exited new Mosaic Stadium with an all-over-the-map 43-40 overtime victory over their Prairie rivals, providing a thrilling capper to Canada Day in front of a capacity crowd of 33,350.

It was the Bombers debut after a Week 1 bye, while the Riders have now dropped two heartbreakers and have opened their campaign 0-2.

The game showcased everything that makes the Canadian Football League great, and the Bombers overcame not only the environment – a home opener in a new building and on Canada Day, no less – but a sluggish start and a blown two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter in a classic slugfest.

“We gave the last punch,” said Bombers receiver Darvin Adams. “It’s always good to win. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up, but it’s so much better to be doing it after a win.

“Even though it was Canada Day, even though it was their home opener in a new stadium, at the end of the day it’s just football. We knew there would be obstacles to overcome and we did it.”

Picture: Arthur Ward

Matt Nichols threw for 334 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, Justin Medlock hit five field goals – including two in overtime – while the defence and special teams forced three turnovers to help author the win for the Bombers.

Riders-legend-turned Bomber Weston Dressler was a big part of the aerial show, finishing with six receptions for 124 yards and two scores, including an 87-yarder that was the longest of his career.

Asked where those two TDs rank in the 55 he has now scored his career – especially after he was cut by the Riders before landing in Winnipeg – Dressler was his normal humble self.

“They’re two touchdowns that helped us win the game,” he said, “and that’s all that matters to me.”

“He’s good, eh?” added Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea with a grin.

“He’s still fast, if anybody was questioning that. He gets behind coverage, he gets open, he catches the ball well, he’s so smart. You need him.”

The Bombers sputtered early, falling behind 17-3 and then rallying just before the intermission with 10 points in the final 66 seconds of the half with a 31-yard touchdown by Darvin Adams and then a 17-yard Medlock field goal.

That momentum bled into the second half as the Bombers went on a 31-3 run to take a 34-20 advantage late in the third quarter. But the Riders countered and tied the game at 37-37 with 1:51 left on a Naaman Roosevelt TD.

That set the stage for OT with the two sides trading field goals on their first touches. The door was opened in the second OT possession when Riders kicker Tyler Crapigna – who missed a potential game winner last week in Montreal – had his field goal attempt clang off the uprights, setting the stage for Medlock to do his thing.

And Bomber fans have come to learn that when the veteran kicker steps on the field, he is hardly a bundle of nerves.

“I’m excited, I want it,” said Medlock when asked what he is feeling as he lines up in those situations. “I want to kick it right down the middle. I just tell Matt (Nichols) when we get the ball, let’s score. We talk about it all the time. We’re golf buddies and we talk about situations.

“He got the ball and he moved it right over to the spot I wanted it and it was perfect.”

The Bombers didn’t pick up a first down in the first quarter and Nichols, as solid as he was, also missed both Dressler and Clarence Denmark for potential touchdowns. Winnipeg got the two scores from Dressler, the one from Adams and L’Damian Washington’s first in the CFL.

“We started slow and finished a little slow,” said Nichols. “Overall I’m proud of these guys. We could have come in at halftime feeling sorry for ourselves and then not come out and responded. But we did respond and put up points.

“I missed a couple of touchdowns. I felt like I underthrew them when they came out of my hand, but I don’t know, maybe it’s not playing with real adrenaline for six or seven months.

“We did some great things, but the only thing I’m thinking about are the two easy touchdowns I missed.”

Picture: Arthur Ward

THE BIG STAT

+2: The Bombers tied a club record last year with a +29 turnover ratio and finished the night +2 in that department, forcing three Riders mistakes – interceptions by T.J. Heath and Sam Hurl and a fumble recovery – while Nichols was picked once.

Dating back to last season, the Bombers are now +9 in the takeaway-giveaway department in their last three games vs. Saskatchewan.

FYI

Weston Dressler has now played three games against his old club and his totals are gaudy – 20 receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed once for 22 yards

MILESTONE WATCH

Riders QB Kevin Glenn appeared in his 271st career game Saturday, tying him with Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea – who is heading into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this year – for 18th on the league’s all-time list.

OUCH REPORT

Bombers defensive back and kick returner Kevin Fogg left the game in the first half with a lower-body injury and did not return. He had returned four punts for 29 yards before leaving and in his place Ryan Lankford handled both punt and kickoff returns… Right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick pulled up lame with 20 seconds left in the third quarter and was replaced by veteran Patrick Neufeld. Hardrick did return to finish the game… Defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo was injured in overtime while tackling Kevin Glenn, but returned on the next possession.

NUMBERS GAME

17:17 – Minutes played before the Bombers registered their first first down of the game, on an eight-yard completion to Weston Dressler. Winnipeg had zero first downs in the first quarter; Saskatchewan had five.

5-1 – Nichols is now 5-1 lifetime vs. the Riders.

10-37 – The Riders record since September of 2014.

164 – Combined yards for University of Manitoba product Nic Demski. The Riders receiver had 82 yards receiving on seven catches and another 82 yards on nine punt returns.

$554,000 – The size of the 50-50 jackpot Saturday night.