Winnipeg Blue Bombers #7 Lucky Whitehead during practice August 20, 2019
GAME 11 | WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (8-2) at SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (6-3)
Kickoff: 2 p.m., CT, Sunday; Mosaic Stadium, Regina
TV: TSN 1/3/5, ESPN+
Radio: 680 CJOB
Vegas line: The Riders are favoured by 5.5 points.
Home/Road: The Bombers are 3-2 on the road this year; the Riders are 4-1 at home.
Streaks: Winnipeg – 3W; Saskatchewan – 5W
Recent history: The Bombers knocked off the Eskimos in Edmonton last Friday in a 34-28 decision. The Riders have won five in a row after their 1-3 start, the most recent decision a 40-18 spanking of the Ottawa REDBLACKS. That five-game win streak is their best since 2014.
Series: The Bombers are 135-104-4 all-time vs. the Roughriders. The Bombers and Riders split their four meetings last year, with Saskatchewan winning both the Labour Day Classic and the Banjo Bowl, before Winnipeg won 31-0 on October 13th and then 23-18 in the West Semi-Final on November 11th.
1. THE STREVOLUTION VS FAJARDOMANIA
Rewind to the beginning of the season and the Labour Day QB matchup would have been billed as a battle of two veteran pivots in Matt Nichols vs. Zach Collaros.
But in a year in which CFL starting pivots have taken a pounding, Nichols is on the shelf after a solid start to the season that saw him lead the Bombers to a 7-2 mark before being injured in a win over B.C. And Collaros was put on the injured list after taking a head shot from Hamilton’s Simoni Lawrence on the first series of the first game of the year and has since been traded to Toronto.
That means Chris Streveler and Cody Fajardo will both make their first Labour Day Classic starts – for Streveler his second straight and for Fajardo his eighth after replacing Collaros.
There’s a fascination with Streveler because of his ability to run away from defenders or plow through them like a fullback. He rushed 14 times for 95 yards and a TD in last week’s win over Edmonton – that’s almost seven yards per run – but his passing numbers were just 7-of-17 for 89 yards. As puny as those passing totals were, five of his seven completions converted second down opportunities and he did not turn the ball over, both factors in a rain-soaked victory.
“You’re always trying to find improvement and from every game there’s always things you can do better,” said Streveler this week. “There are definitely some things from the last game we want to clean up and continue to get better at, and that’s part of the process of the season.”
Fajardo, meanwhile, has been a revelation since stepping behind centre for the Riders. He has thrown for 2,112 yards – fourth-best in the CFL – with a solid 8:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has also rushed for 313 yards and seven more scores. But the Riders are also his third team since 2016 after stints with Toronto and B.C., primarily as a short-yardage specialist.
“He’s making a lot of good decisions with the ball, he’s making quick reads,” said Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill. “He’s showing that he’s been able to learn and make reads down the field and really utilize their personnel. They do a good job of helping him be successful and I think he’s doing all the right things. He can definitely get outside the pocket and extend plays. Those are things we’re definitely going to have to keep an eye on.”
He’s become a star in Riderville in just eight games with his play on the field and engaging personality off it. Murray McCormick of The Regina Leader-Post reported this week Fajardo has signed a sponsorship deal with a car dealership and has T-shirts featuring some of his expressions – he described his recent run of good fortune as a ‘sprinkle of Jesus’ – now being printed.
Clearly, a win over the Bombers in a Labour Day Classic would only enhance his growing legacy.
Ditto, of course, for Streveler.
2. REPLACING A WORKHORSE
There’s no sense dancing around this: replacing Andrew Harris – who will be serving the first of his two-game suspension – will be a tall order. He is the two-time defending CFL rushing champion, leads the league this year with 908 yards and has also the best receiver out of the backfield in this league in eons and is an adept pass blocker to boot.
Just to hammer his contributions home a bit further, Harris has 141 carries and a team-leading 46 receptions this year for 187 combined touches or 35.3 % of the club’s yards for scrimmage. Consider this: every other receiver for the Bombers this year have a combined 142 receptions.
The Bombers will turn the chores over to Johnny Augustine as the replacement for Harris.. A power back who runs like every snap could be his last, Augustine is working not to be overwhelmed by the moment.
“It’s a big opportunity, but I try not to think about it too much, I am thinking of it as the next game,” said Augustine. “Look, I’m not blind to it. I understand the situation that I’m in and I’m blessed and humbled about it. But, at the same time, I’m just going to go out there and play football and try to help my team win even with the whole Labour Day Classic and the theme that goes behind it. At the end of the day we’ve all just got to go out and play football.”
Augustine spoke earlier in the week about the similarities in the path he’s taken to this point to that of the man he is replacing in Harris. Both were undrafted. Both have had to fight and scrap to get touches.
“It’s amazing, coming from where he did, it’s the same thing,” said Augustine. “I’m going to tell the truth, sometimes I hate hearing about (not being drafted) because it doesn’t matter now. Here I am, two-three years removed from the draft… I’m here so that’s all that matters now.”
3. ‘CLASSIC’ OR ‘CLUNKER’?
The Bombers haven’t been without their success in new Mosaic Stadium in Regina, winning the first regular season game played there on Canada Day of 2017 and also the first playoff game played in the building last November.
But the Labour Day Classic… that’s an entirely different story.
Technically, this is the 56th Labour Day Classic between the two teams, but it’s the 55thtime being held in Regina (the 1952 game was in Winnipeg), and the Riders hold a decisive 36-19 record. Those numbers look even more gruesome when analyzing the recent results: The Riders have captured 13 of the last 14 meetings on Labour Day, the lone exception the 2016 game in which Justin Medlock hit a walk-off game-winning field goal. During this 1-13 stretch for the Bombers, the average margin of defeat in the LDC has been a whopping 17.15 points.
Still, there are some circumstances which will make Sunday potentially compelling, behind the two QBs making their first start and the change at running back for the Bombers.
This is the first LDC game since 1954 where the Bombers and Riders are 1-2 in the West Division – remember: from 1987-95, 1997-01 and 20006-13 the Bombers were in the East – and the 14 combined wins between the two teams is the most in the Classic’s history.
There’s also this as it relates to the West Division standings: this is the first of three games between the two clubs over the next six weeks. After this weekend, the Riders will be in Winnipeg on Saturday, September 7th for the Banjo Bowl, with the two meeting again in Regina on October 5th.
“Even for players who don’t know the tradition behind this game when you step into that stadium and the whistle blows there’s a lot of emotions flying around, a lot of energy flying around,” said Bombers slotback Nic Demski, who was drafted by the Riders and has experienced the LDC from both sidelines. “You’ve just got to learn how to control that. If you get too ahead of yourself and let your emotions fly all over the place, you’re going to be stuck in a bad spot.”
- Winnipeg’s Chris Streveler is 2-3 as a starter. Sunday will be his first start against the Riders and first in the Labour Day Classic.
- Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo is 6-2 this year as a starter, his first run at the controls of an offence since entering the league. Like Streveler, he has yet to start a Labour Day Classic and he will be the fifth different starter for the Riders in the last five years of the game after Zach Collaros (2018), Kevin Glenn (2017), Darian Durant (2016) and Brett Smith (2015).
3 BOMBERS TO WATCH
#92 Drake Nevis, DT: The veteran tackle is quietly having another superb season on the interior of the Bombers D-line. Nevis has 16 tackles and a sack, but also four pass knockdowns and is tied for the team lead with four tackles for a loss.
#5 Willie Jefferson, DE: He was phenomenal in last week’s win over Edmonton affecting the Eskimo defence on almost every snap.
#1 Darvin Adams, WR: Returns to the lineup for the first time since a leg injury in the loss to Hamilton in late July. He’s been the Bombers leading receiver in each of the last two years and his big-play ability – plus the little things he does like blocking – could go a long way in getting the aerial attack rolling.
#39 Marcus Rios, DB: Lost in the work of Jefferson last week was the play of Rios in his first CFL start. He had a Pick-6 in the win, and although Tevaun Smith got behind him for a late score, there were enough flashes to be intrigued by his skillset.
The Bombers are making three changes to their roster for this week’s game. Coming aboard are DE Craig Roh, WR Malcolm Williams and WR Darvin Adams. Off are WR Chris Matthews, RB Andrew Harris and DE Alex McCalister.
JUICY NUMBER: 29
The Bombers have rolled into Regina with a better record than the Riders in 29 of the 55 Labour Day Classics. And yet, the combined record of those teams is just 11-18. The Riders have had a superior record 16 times, and are a combined 12-4 in those occasions.
- The Bombers were averaging 250 yards per game passing through their first six games, but are averaging just 150 per game in the last four.
- Riders QB Cody Fajardo has thrown 129 consecutive passes without an interception. He has seven interception-free games in 2019.
- One more on Fajardo: he’s attempting to become the first Riders pivot to win six straight games since Darian Durant won seven consecutive in 2014.
- Justin Medlock has hit on 93 consecutive converts from the 32-yard distance.
- Mike Miller moved into third-place with Brendan Rogers and Sean Millington on the CFL’s all-time special-teams tackle list last week with 176.
NOW HEAR THIS:
Bombers RT Jermarcus Hardrick is another player who has worn both Riders and Bombers colours on Labour Day game. He’s also played in some big-time rivalry games during his days at Nebraska against Texas and Oklahoma and then versus Michigan and Wisconsin when the Cornhuskers moved to the Big-Ten in 2011
“I’ve been on both sides of it… it’s just one of the great pleasures of coming to play in the CFL,” said Hardrick of the LDC. “Two good fan bases, passionate. It’s going to be a physical fist fight and I’m excited.
“It’s the same feel (as Nebraska-Michigan, Nebraska-Wisconsin.). There’s a lot more people in the Big-Ten games, but the CFL game is a lot more louder. I don’t know how to explain that – there’s probably 50-60K more people at the college games, but coming to Winnipeg and playing and going to Sask and playing is way louder than it was in college.”