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June 1, 2022

Game Recap | Pre-season at Saskatchewan

REGINA – The mission was straightforward for the men wearing Winnipeg Blue Bombers colours in their quest to become Canadian Football League regulars.

Bring the physicality, be assignment sound, and be the authors of eye-popping plays. In short, make the upcoming decisions by the coaching staff and football management as difficult as possible before Saturday’s roster cut down. And so in that respect there were a group of Blue Bombers who checked all or some combination of those boxes in Tuesday’s final preseason game, a 25-16 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium.

“That’s the plan,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea of the difficult roster decisions ahead. “Ted (Goviea, Assistant GM), Danny (McManus, Assistant GM) and Kyle (Walters, GM) want to make sure those decisions are tough. If it was all easy, then they’d be upset.”

The Blue Bombers left a ton of regulars at home, with that list including QB Zach Collaros, running backs Brady Oliveira, Johnny Augustine and fullback Mike Miller, receivers Nic Demski, Drew Wolitarsky and Greg Ellingson, the entire offensive line in Stanley Bryant, Geoff Gray, Michael Couture, Pat Neufeld and Jermarcus Hardrick, defensive linemen Willie Jefferson, Jake Thomas, Cam Lawson, Casey Sayles and Jackson Jeffcoat, linebackers Adam Bighill, Shayne Gauthier, Kyrie Wilson and Les Maruo and defensive backs Winston Rose, Nick Taylor and Deatrick Nichols.

But those that did make the trip were all in, playing a physical brand of football – and clearly invested in earning the win – that would have made the vets at home proud. They certainly did that for their boss.

“Regardless of what’s the film’s going to show in execution, I thought they worked really hard,” said O’Shea. “They were running around, the pursuit to the ball was excellent, they were hitting hard, they were trying to play a physical game – which was really what we wanted to see, to see if they could muster up that energy after only four days. I’m really exicted for that. We’ve got guys who get it, who’ve got grit.”

One of the players who popped out for the Blue Bombers was veteran quarterback Dakota Prukop, who shook off a shaky debut in last week’s preseason opener against Edmonton to rally the club to victory against the Riders while showcasing his running and passing skills.
Prukop threw two TDs on 7-of-12 passing for 215 yards and led the club in rushing with 74 yards on six carries. Dru Brown started for the Bombers and was 6-of-14 for 86 yards while rushing four times for 35 yards and a TD.

“I’m really happy – a lot happier than last week,” Prukop said. “It’s preseason and I read somewhere that it doesn’t count, but it matters. It felt really good. I’m just happy it went out way.”

Given his handiwork last Friday, Prukop was asked if he felt he needed to make some plays to wedge himself back into the No. 2 QB discussion after Brown played so well last week.

“I wasn’t trying to do that because that’s a slippery slope,” he said. “It was just about ‘Hey, this is a game. I’m not going to make it any bigger because of last week’s performance.’ I’m extremely fortunate to have my support system and my wife… her positivity is infectious, and she helps me wash things and move on to the next. And then I fall back on my faith. When I’m having a tough time it’s just something that keeps me grounded and doesn’t let me – especially on a four-day turnaround – get stuck in your feels and make an excuse. You don’t have time to do that. You’ve got to take accountability and get ready for the next game.”

The Blue Bombers generated 445 net yards of offence and forced five turnovers, including two interceptions by Tyquwan Glass and Javon Jackson.

The Blue Bombers will try and squeeze in a few practices before the cut down on the weekend, but again, what was most pleasing to the head coach afterward was the performance by the squad on such a short turnaround and with just one practice in between Friday’s game vs. the Elks and the trip to Regina.

“It’s football and it’s a tough sport, a very physical violent kind of sport,” said O’Shea. “These guys laid in on the line and on that kind of short rest for them to come out and work as hard as they did and be able to gut that out is impressive. I’m very happy for those guys, and they should be happy, too.”

THE BIG MOMENT

A defensive struggle had come to life in the fourth quarter, with the Riders rallying from an 11-0 deficit to narrow Winnipeg’s lead to 18-16 when Dakota Prukop found Tavaris Harrison for a picturesque 32-yard TD with 2:13 remaining to seal the win.

THE BIG STAT

The Blue Bombers five turnovers spoke of the Blue Bombers pursuit to the football. In addition to the Glass and Jackson interceptions, Corey Straughter and Jamal Parker recovered fumbles with one coming on a Rider third-down gamble that wasn’t converted.

GAME BALLS

Offence: Dakota Prukop, QB – The veteran pivot seemed to muddy the No. 2 QB battle again with a solid night. Led the Bombers in rushing with 74 yards on just two carries and completed 7-of-12 for 215 yards with TD strikes of 78 yards to Whop Philyor and the 32 yarder to Harrison.

Defence: Malik Clements, LB – Two preseason games, two defensive game balls for Clements, who is trying to carve out a spot on the roster. Led the Bombers in tackles with eight, giving him 14 tackles and a sack in his two efforts.

Special teams: Marc Liegghio, K – The Bombers had five different players return kicks, so it’s tough to evaluate any one returner. And there wasn’t much to separate Liegghio from Ali Mourtada. Liegghio finished with a 76.5-yard average on kickoffs – including one for a single – averaged 48 yards on two punts and made the Bombers only field goal of the preseason, an 18 yarder.

FYI

The Riders lineup was also minus some regulars. Not dressing for Saskatchewan were QB Cody Fajardo, receivers Duke Williams and Kyran Moore, linebackers Darnell Sankey and Larry Dean, defensive linemen Garrett Marino and A.C. Leonard, DBs Nick Marshall and Mike Edem, kicker Brett Lauther and OL Dan Clark and Josiah St. John.

NEXT: The Blue Bombers will now turn their focus to the 2022 season opener, which goes Friday June 10th at 7:30 p.m. when the Ottawa RedBlacks pay a visit to IG Field.