September 11, 2023

Upon Further Review | SSK 6 WPG 51

Post-Game - Willie Jefferson 5 - Dalton Schoen 83 trophy

Go ahead and mark it down as the newest entry in Urban Dictionary for the meaning of the term ‘Poking the bear.’

See: 2023 Banjo Bowl.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ absolute mauling of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their 51-6 win on Saturday served up many storylines, the most important being the club posting a seventh consecutive winning season en route to a seventh consecutive playoff appearance.

And yet one of the most compelling subplots has its roots from a week earlier in Regina.

Yes, the genesis of the jaw-dropping first half performance by the offence – an opening 30 minutes that saw the attack score six touchdowns on all six possessions – can be traced back to those moments right after the club’s overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Labour Day Classic when an enraged quarterback Zach Collaros asked for the room’s attention.

Based on the accounts of those in the room, the CFL’s reigning two-time Most Outstanding Player demanded more from everyone, including himself, and that it had to start ASAP when the team returned to work. That speech not only snapped everyone to attention after a lacklustre performance, but it also set the tone in the days leading up to the Banjo Bowl.

“That speech fired me up and I know it fired a lot of other guys up,” explained receiver Dalton Schoen, who was sensational on Saturday with five receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns. “I was ready to go play another game right then and there.

“Coming back from that game, me and Kenny (Lawler) were texting late in the night about mistakes we both made and wished we had back. The sad reality of it is and I said this to him too, is we can’t go back in time and make those plays. That’s done. It’s over. But what we could do was work as hard as we possible could to make sure we make all the plays we can moving forward. The reality is that’s not going to happen; you are going to make mistakes. But if you continue to work hard good things will happen.

“Going back to Zach’s speech, it lit a fire under everybody, and it wasn’t just that night when we lost that game, it was every day this week at practice. I thought we really brought it with good intensity on both sides of the ball.”

Most of the juicy details from the Banjo Bowl beatdown are here in our Game Recap and Schoen was just one of many who reiterated the importance of the Collaros’ speech.

“There were no excuses after the Labour Day Classic and Zach was emotional and let everyone know his feelings,” said guard Pat Neufeld. “It was a little uncommon for him to speak out like that, but it showed his passion and commitment. Everyone was going to follow our leader even more after that. That was a big moment for us.”

Incredibly, after not completing a pass in the first quarter in the Labour Day loss, Collaros was 7-for-7 for 75 yards and a touchdown in the opening 15 minutes in the Banjo Bowl. By halftime? Try 16-of-17 for 285 yards and FIVE touchdowns.

“There’s something about him when you’re around him, when he gets like this, it’s so much fun to be around him,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “You don’t even have to talk to him. You stand near him and you’re like, ‘OK.’

“I thought he was like a wrecking ball, he really was. He was so dialled in, so on point. It’s not to say he isn’t every other night, it’s just everything worked. Everyone else around him was executing on such a high level it helps the quarterback, obviously.”

“Zach’s a baller. We all know that,” added Schoen. “He’s seen a lot in this game. No matter what the defence comes out and does he’s going to know the next move, he’s going to know the next thing to do and he’s a great leader for this team. He doesn’t speak up a lot – he leads by example – but when he does, it’s powerful.

“It’s using that anger from that one moment. Usually that anger leaves you, so then it’s getting back to ‘Alright, how do I get better today and do something better than what I did last week because last week wasn’t good enough.’ It’s not about some crazy recipe, it’s about doing the little things day in and day out.”

More on the Blue Bombers impressive Banjo Bowl performance in this week’s Upon Further Review

THREE NUMBERS THAT JUMP OUT… after a second look at the stats package, available here.

  1. So many gaudy numbers inside the Blue Bombers’ 51-point effort, including the six TDs on the first six possessions. We’re going to jam a few together here under one note: Winnipeg averaged a whopping 11.2 yards on first down (35 for 391) and 10.3 yards on second down (20 for 205) and were 4-for-6 in red zone scoring chances.
  2. The defence was stifling again in limiting the Riders to just 204 yards of net offence, including just 139 passing. Saskatchewan was just 5-of-16 in second down conversions. It also marked the fifth time this season the Blue Bombers defence has not allowed a TD.
  3. Collaros had five TD passes by halftime before the Blue Bombers ran clock and were smart in their play selection in the second half to prevent turnovers before QB1 gave way to Dru Brown.

Just FYI, the club record for TD passes in a game is held by Jim Van Pelt with seven in a 61-8 win over Saskatchewan on August 29, 1959. Of note, Ken Ploen also threw for a score in that game, giving the Blue Bombers eight in one game, also a club record. Jack Jacobs (October 4, 1952, in a 41-30 win over Calgary) and Sean Salisbury (September 10, 1989, in a 53-34 win over B.C.) also both threw for six TDs in a single game.

WAIT… WHAT?!… Funny moment in the locker room afterward when Schoen, surrounded by a group of reporters offered up this on the offence’s first half:

“I thought we played pretty good in the first half – to go six-for-six on touchdowns on offence, that’s pretty special. That just shows what we’re capable of when we execute and do our jobs. I’m sure there will still be stuff to correct, but it definitely feels good to be in a rhythm like that and have a good balanced attack running and passing.”

Wait… ‘pretty good’?

“That’s the beautiful thing about football, though,” said Schoen with a grin. “There’s always stuff you can do better and I’m sure we’ll see the tape tomorrow and there will be corrections that need to be made in that first half.”

THE ‘O’ TRAIN KEEPS CHUGGING… and with each touch Brady Oliveira continues to make his case for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian Award that much more compelling. In fact, there was even some chatter during the game Saturday that he could also be an MOP candidate.

In any case, the Winnipegger now has a career high 1,144 yards rushing and six TDs and continues to also lead the CFL in yards from scrimmage with an additional 368 yards on 27 receptions and three more TDs. Oliveira’s 154 yards along the ground in the Banjo Bowl was already his sixth 100-yard rushing game this year.

“I’m blessed, man,” Oliveira said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity every single day I get to play for this team, my hometown. I work my butt off and this unit, my teammates, they lift me up on the days where maybe the motivation is not there. That’s my motivation in there: to continue to come here and make sure I’m ready to go every single week to go perform like that. I owe my teammates to go and do that. I really appreciate the guys in that locker room; they’re the ones who have gotten me to where I am in my career.

“I’m just getting started. This offensive line is doing good things right now so we’re just going to keep on building of this performance, and we’ve got many more yards to chase.”

And when Andrew Harris’ name came up in the post-game and the natural comparisons, Oliveira added this:

“Everyone wants to keep comparing. I think we’re totally different people. Maybe there’s some similar traits, but I think we are different as players. I’m coming for more, man. I’m still young in my career and I know the sky’s the limit for myself. And I know there’s so much more I can continue to show what I’m capable of as a player. So, I’m coming for more.”

“He puts on his own boots every day,” said O’Shea when the Oliveira-Harris comparison was broached. “I don’t think he’s wearing shoes; he’s wearing big work boots. He’s a pleasure to watch because he’s serious about his craft, he’s becoming a good professional and he brings it. I just think his teammates really appreciate that.”

The best season for Harris as a Blue Bomber, FYI, came in 2018 when he had 1,390 yards along the ground. That’s just 246 yards more than what Oliveira currently has with five games to go.

“He’s got this great style which just fits with our group,” added O’Shea. “He’s got tremendous hands – you can see it in practice and get a lot of YAC (yards after catch). The DBs, when they come up, they feel it because he’s dropping his pads and running hard. He broke out of a lot of tackles today, so did Johnny (Augustine) when he got his opportunity. He broke out of a lot of tackles and made some guys miss and kept going.

“It’s really impressive by the O-line and the running attack was excellent.”

THE LAST WORD: The Banjo Bowl is always the marquee regular season game on the Blue Bombers calendar and the 2023 edition certainly delivered. In fact, the whole tailgating scene, the mob following Chris Streveler wherever he went, and the result arguably made it the best of all 19 editions of the game.

“I gotta say this,” said O’Shea of the whole scene, “driving in today, and I came earlier probably than I usually do, so I was at least four hours early and it was full throttle all the way in on (Chancellor Matheson Road). You pass by some guy in his trailer and they’re barbecuing and there’s this guy in his 60s and he’s got full equipment on and he’s just holding court… I couldn’t help but laugh and just feel so proud just to be a part of that. It was pretty cool driving in today.”