REGINA – First thing’s first with the big picture storyline from the Labour Day Classic…
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers fell in the annual throw down between two Prairie rivals, dropping a 32-30 decision in overtime to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in front of a sold-out crowd at Mosaic Stadium and, as a result, are now 9-3 while whiffing on their first crack to clinch a playoff spot.
But it is the subplot to the loss – and one play in particular – that will certainly be THE talking point in Winnipeg in the days leading up to next Saturday’s rematch in the annual Banjo Bowl.
With just over four minutes left in the game Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros was head-butted well after the whistle by Roughriders defensive end Pete Robertson with the officiating crew somehow missing it before the command centre stepped in to right the wrong.
The Blue Bombers would then take their first lead of the game on the next play on a Brady Oliveira TD, but then followed that with enough mistakes in the final few minutes to spit up the advantage and lose. But the seething anger from that hit – especially from Collaros – was palpable inside about outside the locker room after the defeat.
Collaros’ post-game interview lasted all of 69 seconds, but his reaction to the hit was the most emotional he’s been in his days as a Blue Bomber. Here’s the entire exchange on the Robertson head butt with Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press from the scrum:
Hamilton: “You were pretty heated on the sidelines after that hit by Pete Robertson. What did you see?”
Collaros: “What did you see?”
Hamilton: “I saw a guy head butt you.”
Collaros: “Yeah. You think the league will do anything about it?”
Hamilton: “I’m not sure.”
Collaros: “You’ve been around the league a long time. What would your assumption be?”
Hamilton: “I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Hamilton: “This league doesn’t really surprise me anymore.”
Collaros: “Surprise you? It happens all the time.”
Added head coach Mike O’Shea when it was suggested by The Sun’s Ted Wyman that Collaros was ‘pretty mad’: “Rightfully so. Ridiculous. I’m not sure why there’s not a flag on the field and it’s got to go to the command centre. I do not understand that. I hear too many times ‘I didn’t see it.’ I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the standard is anymore, really, and I’m on the rules committee. I have no clue.”
Ultimately the game wasn’t decided on that play, as the Roughriders scored in overtime and added the two-point conversion, with the Blue Bombers missing their own conversion after Collaros connected with Kenny Lawler for a 35-yard TD.
But, again, the rematch just got even more interesting.
“It’s not about revenge or anything like that, but we definitely have some payback for what happened tonight,” said Nic Demski. “That’s the beauty of this sport. You might lose one game, but you have the opportunity to come out and play the next week. We’ve got some stuff to fix, obviously. But at the end of the day we have another opportunity to go out and compete”
The Blue Bombers trailed 3-0 after the opening quarter after a sputtering start that came instantly with Roughrider kicker Brett Lauther jumping on his own short kick on the opening kickoff to give Saskatchewan the first possession.
Collaros did not complete a pass in the first quarter and had his second attempt intercepted by Nick Marshall. All told, Winnipeg had just three first downs to start and just 27 net offensive yards, all of it coming from Brady Oliveira.
“I’m frustrated. I hate losing. I play this game to win games. I’m very, very, very competitive and so is this group,” said Oliveira, who had 88 yards on 17 carries. “There’s lots of pissed off guys in this locker room right now and that’s good.
“We’ve got to be mad about that, that’s not the result that we wanted. They made more plays than us. Credit to them. But we’re the better team for sure. We’ve got to play cleaner, make the plays when they come to us and play an entire 60 minutes from start to finish.”
The Blue Bombers attack did find some rhythm, with Collaros connecting with Drew Wolitarsky and Lawler for TDs and Oliveira rushing for two more. But the mistakes were all over the field in all three phases of the game.
‘D’ STAGGERS, RECOVERS, FALLS:
The Blue Bombers defence entered the game having gone nine quarters without giving up a TD – a number that grew to 10 after the first quarter.
But facing a fresh-faced QB in Jake Dolegala, who was making just his third start, they surrendered 326 yards passing and gave up a four-point fourth quarter lead including the game-tying field goal with 31 seconds left and then the TD and conversion in overtime.
“Some plays got away from us offensively, defensively and special teams, too,” said Willie Jefferson. “We’ve got to shake it off and be better next week. We had opportunites to put them away, get off the field on second down, convert on second down and get some first downs on offence and back them up on special teams.
“The first thing is to watch the film, correct the mistakes, own the mistakes. We’re a good team. They played a good game. Give them credit. They were at home, they had the momentum at times and they were able to make plays at the end to put themselves on top.”
“We’re moving on to next week. We didn’t get the win. Let’s go get this one next week at home. Now it’s about us. It’s about putting our best foot forward. Put some love on each other and play ball. That’s the only thing we can do. It’s not about anybody else, but us.” – Jermarcus Hardrick.
The Riders now hold a 38-20 edge in the Classic dating to 1949… Collaros is now 6-1 in Labour Day Classics, having gone 3-0 as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 1-0 in his season with Saskatchewan and now 2-1 since becoming a Blue Bomber… Winnipeg had its streak of six straight wins vs the Riders snapped, including four straight games against their rivals at Mosaic Stadium.
THE BIG MOMENT
Overtime… the Riders score on their first possession and got the two-point convert, forcing the Blue Bombers to match to extend the extra time. Collaros connected with Lawler on the first play for the 35-yard score, but conversion was knocked down at the goal line.
THE BIG STAT: 7
Winnipeg’s first seven possessions featured seven punts, along with an interception and the Wolitarsky TD.
Brady Oliveira, RB: Rushed for 88 yards and two scores and pulled in one pass for another 12. He now has 990 yards rushing on the season.
Part II of the annual back-to-back with the Roughriders goes next week back in Winnipeg with The Banjo Bowl, which sold out weeks ago, scheduled to kickoff at 3 p.m.