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September 4, 2022

Game Recap | WPG 20 SSK 18

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers warm up before CFL action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Sunday, September 4, 2022. (CFL PHOTO - Matt Smith)

REGINA – Attention Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans: there’s no longer a need to cover your eyes or find a place to hide on Labour Day Sunday.

Yes, it’s officially official – ghosts of the Labour Day Classic have been exorcised by the back-to-back Grey Cup champions.

The Blue Bombers had their arms raised as the victors in front of a capacity crowd of 33,350 at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday, grinding out a 20-18 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders that improves the team to 11-1 and clinches a playoff spot in the process.

And then there’s this: coupled with last year’s win, the club has won consecutive Labour Day Classics for the first time since 2003-04.

“That environment was amazing,” said Blue Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson. “The home team showed up, gave their ‘A’ game, and took it down to the end.

“That’s exactly what we were expecting and that’s exactly what we wanted. We didn’t want to come in and it just be a one-sided game and a walk in the park. We wanted to come in and play a hard-nosed football game that we know we’re going to get. Every year we come here we know we’re going to get that kind of game.

“So, when we come home, and they come to us next week it’s going to be the same thing.”

The Blue Bombers got some stellar work from all three phases including two touchdown passes by Zach Collaros, a defence that settled in after falling behind 14-0 and then yielded just a punt single in the second half to a game-winning 55-yard bomb of a field goal by Marc Liegghio.

“It’s what I said I wanted to do from the Montreal game (when he missed a game winner) to now – just go out there and put the three points on the board,” said Liegghio. “I’m glad the team had confidence in me to put me out from that far out. I was going out there and it was ‘You don’t need to rush. You don’t need to do anything different, just go out there and smash it.

“As soon as it came off my foot it felt really good, and I saw it travelling on the line it was travelling and once it went through it was a great feeling looking at my teammates.

“Apparently, they were telling me they were walking out before it even went in – they just knew as soon as I kicked it. Them having the confidence in me and the team, the way they are, they’re awesome. It’s just a great feeling.”

The Liegghio kick gave the Blue Bombers their first lead of the game with three minutes remaining and was then followed by a critical interception by Nick Hallett at the Winnipeg 14-yard line.

“It speaks to the love we have for each other, sticking together and believing in each other,” said Collaros. “It’s something that is built into the culture here. No matter what the score is we believe we have the opportunity to win the football game and all three phases did a great job of sticking together and did a great job of sticking together and came out of here, a hostile environment, with the win.”

The playoff-clinching win match the team’s quickest to qualify in the 18-game era (since 1986) and send the club to the postseason for the sixth straight season.

Predictably, that fact never even moved the needle in a locker room that is fixated on more than just participating in meaningful November games.

“I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that until now,” said Demski when told the result clinched a playoff spot. “That’s huge. That’s what you play football for, to go play in the playoffs.

“That puts a smile on my face right now.”

THE BIG STAT: 1

Let’s not complicate things – after falling behind 14-0 and then rallying to tie the game 17-17 at halftime, the Blue Bombers defence then held the Roughriders to a Kaare Vedvik 78-yard punt single in the second half.

GAME BALLS

Offence: Zach Collaros, QB: His passing yardage is modest – he had 214 yards on 15 of 24 – but he was at his best on his TD throws to Demski and Dalton Schoen.

Defence: Nick Hallett, S: So many candidates on the defensive side, but Hallett finished the game with four tackles, added one on special teams and then delivered with the critical interception inside the final two minutes.

Special teams: Marc Liegghio, K: Connected on both his field-goal attempts – from 41 and 55 – and finished with a 44.4-yard average on seven punts. What the numbers don’t show was an exception deke on what looked to be a sure punt block before he stepped up and delivered a punt downfield.

NOTABLE

  • The Blue Bombers have now won five straight against the Roughriders dating back to the 2019 Western Final.
  • The club is now 28-3 in games in which Collaros has started.
  • Rider RB Frankie Hickson had 51 yards on his first six carries and then just 34 on his next nine touches.

WOW. JUST WOW

Demski’s 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter was a thing of beauty as he adjusted to the pass in flight – a play Collaros referred to as a ‘Willy Mays-stuff.”

In Demski’s last two games he has 13 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns and added six carries for 53 yards.

ROAD WARRIORS

The win improves the Blue Bombers to a perfect 7-0 on the road this year.

QUOTABLE:

“Fantastic ending. I know that the Rider fans are disappointed but, in general, for fans across the country that’s a helluva game.” – Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea.

NEXT: The Blue Bombers are back home next Saturday for the annual Banjo Bowl – officially sold out – on Saturday, September 10th. Kickoff is 3 p.m. CST.