Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at New Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK, Saturday, July 1st, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)
It might have been Milt Stegall or Matt Dunigan. Could have been James West, or quite likely, the loquacious Doug Brown.
But many, many moons ago, a Winnipeg Blue Bomber player very vividly described protecting home turf to yours truly akin to not allowing another man take over your barbecue and then – ahem – finding a spot in your backyard to mark territory.
And we’re paraphrasing here because the original quote was a tad more descriptive and not suitable for all audiences.
We bring this up today on the eve of the Banjo Bowl because the Bombers have reached not only a critical stage in their 2017 season, but it could be said, in their ongoing transformation into a Canadian Football League contender.
The sideshow stuff that has helped make this week even juicier than normal – Duron Carter saying he was spit on by a Bomber fan and calling Bomber fans the worst in the league, the whole Riders cramping up on occasion as Winnipeg went into the hurry-up, and the ‘assault’ on Gainer the Gopher – shouldn’t gloss over the big picture.
Namely, this is a huge bleepin’ game. Not only does the winner of the Banjo Bowl capture the season series between the two teams, but they establish where they are for a fall stretch run – either the Riders extend their winning streak to four games, or the Bombers rebound and enter their bye having won five of their last six.
The big-picture take from a Bombers win would also be this: They would improve to 4-1 at Investors Group Field this year and 8-3 in their last 11 here at home.
“And I don’t want that one,” said Maurice Leggett, referencing the Bombers lone home loss this season, to Calgary back in their home opener. “Zero would be better. We just have to make sure we stay at one.”
Yes, that alone – re-establishing homefield advantage after years of regularly having the opposition take over their grill and mark territory here – is potentially mammoth for the Bombers.
“The crowds have been coming out and they’ve been a big factor in us winning games and momentum,” said Andrew Harris.
“Just the energy in here has been amazing. To get a win, to get a win at home is crucial for us. Keeping our fans happy and having that homefield feel where teams are scared or worried about coming here, worried about the crowd noise, worried about the energy we have when we play here… there’s a bunch of different factors that come into winning and being successful at home.”
Brace yourself, Bomber fans, while we open up old wounds: Previous to this recent run, the Bombers were an atrocious 7-23 at IGF since the doors first swung open here in 2013.
Just to add some perspective, during a run from 1990-95 – a six-year stretch that featured the last championship in ’90 and three Grey Cup appearances – the Bombers were a remarkable 45-9 at home. And in the 1980s, Winnipeg had just one losing season at home and went 31-3 at the old barn during from 1984-87.
Now that’s homefield advantage.
The Bombers will be here at home for five of their last eight games – Saturday’s Banjo Bowl, September 22nd vs. Ottawa, October 6th vs. Hamilton, October 14th and October 28th vs. B.C. – and keeping their turf sacred will directly impact whether there is a home playoff game here for the first time since the 2011 Eastern Final.
And if you think Banjo Bowl is loud, just imagine the decibel levels with a season at stake in November…
“With how tight the West is right now, every game is important, especially against a Western opponent and this is essentially the tiebreaker for us, too,” said Harris. “You never know how the season is going to end up and where it’s going to go after you play a team, but any time you’re playing for a tiebreaker, it’s a crucial game for us.”
Just as an aside, TSN is attempting to find out which fan base is louder – Saskatchewan’s or Winnipeg’s – and their decibel meter hit 104 last weekend in Regina. Harris is calling for Bomber fans to hit the 110 mark
110dbs Let’s go Bomber Fans! #Relentless
— Andrew Harris (@andrewharris33) September 7, 2017
“The more the merrier, but we want it to be loud in here,” said Harris. “I think we’ve got it in our fans. The challenge is out to them.”
The fans have almost always been there, it should be said. Now it’s crucial the football club do their part again to keep them loud and proud.
GAME 11 – THE BANJO BOWL | ROUGHRIDERS (5-4) at BLUE BOMBERS (7-3)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday, Investors Group Field
TV: TSN, ESPN 3
Streaks: Saskatchewan: 3W; Winnipeg: 1L
Vegas line: The Bombers are favoured by 2 points.
Home/Road: Winnipeg is 3-1 at home this year, the lone blemish a loss to Calgary in their home opener back on July 7th. The Riders are 1-3 on the road, but their last trip away from Regina was impressive in a 54-31 over the Eskimos in Edmonton.
Recent history: The Bombers and Riders have split the season series to date, with Winnipeg winning 43-40 in OT in Regina on Canada Day and Saskatchewan responding with a 38-24 victory last weekend in the annual Labour Day Classic.
Banjo Bowl Numbers: This will be the 14th edition of the Banjo Bowl, with the Bombers holding a 7-6 advantage all-time.
- The last 12 Banjo Bowls have all sold out, with a total attendance of 374,337 for an average of 31,195.
- The Bombers have won the last two Banjo Bowls, both with Matt Nichols at the controls. In those two wins, Nichols has passed for 530 yards with one TD and one interception while rushing for two scores.
DO THAT VOODOO THAT YOU DO SO WELL
Say what you will about how it all unfolded last week, but the Riders were successful in limiting the Bombers’ hurry-up’ offence when three defensive linemen suffered through cramps or injury while the attack was in no-huddle mode. There is no rule against what happened, nor a way for the officials to question the legitimacy of the injuries.
But if the Bombers want to push this to some sort of a conclusion and protect the no-huddle offence from disappearing altogether without the CFL stepping in, they must stick with it and not abandon what is a staple of their attack.
Asked if he thought the Bombers could still run their hurry-up, Harris said:
“We’ll see. I texted one of their guys and said ‘Make sure you get your electrolytes in.’ Hopefully they get their pedialyte and electrolytes in and we can get our hurry-up going. If not, that shouldn’t be what defines us winning or losing the game. We’ve got to be successful in other areas. It’s definitely something we do and a lot of other teams do it too. We’ve just got to be better overall.”
And the response of the Rider he texted?
“He just gave me the ‘looking-eyes’ emoji,” said Harris. “I don’t know what that means. He might have snitched on himself.”
All that said, the Bombers have made sure this week in all of their interviews not to make all of the sideshow stuff a focal part of any interview. They know they were beaten last week and vow to be better. Period.
“We don’t care about that stuff. That’s noise, honestly,” said Harris. “There’s a lot of things that are said and are talked about. We’ve just got to worry about what we do in this week of practice and now we come out tomorrow and be successful for the team.”
AVOIDING THE QUICK KILL
Some scary totals from the Riders recent three-game run:
- The Riders have out-scored their opponents 53-3 in the first quarter during this stretch and 133-63 overall.
- The 133 points in the last three games is the most by any Riders squad since a stretch in 2006, and the most by any CFL team since Calgary cranked out 156 in a three-game run in 2010.
- The Riders three-game win streak have all been wire to wire, a feat they have not accomplished since a stretch in 1993 when they knocked off Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa without ever trailing.
- The Riders have now gone 180 minutes without trailing and have led for 160:33 during that span.
Translation? Don’t get punched in the mouth early without responding otherwise this could unravel fast.
“A lot of guys came in here this week ready to work,” said Stanley Bryant. “We realize we didn’t put forth our best effort and we’re ready to get better.
“Watching the film… we weren’t flying around like we normally do. I know we showed up, but that part of our game didn’t show up. We need a lot more energy this game and we need to be ready early.”
KEVIN G & FRIENDS
Veteran QB Kevin Glenn lit up the Bombers for 386 yards and three touchdowns last week with three receivers – Bakari Grant (139), Naaman Roosevelt (119) and Duron Carter (101) – all eclipsing the 100-yard mark.
That’s the first time since 1992 (Ray Elgaard, Jeff Fairholm and B.K. Williams) a Riders receiving corps has accomplished that in a single game.
“It’s just a lot of things going right,” Grant told Riderville.com this week. “The offensive line is protecting Glenn, Kevin’s going through his reads well, and we have a good game plan.
“We said it from the beginning: It’s going to be tough trying to stop us all. If coverage happens to go one way, Kevin takes what the defence gives him.”
“Very good receiving corps,” said Bomber defensive back T.J. Heath.
“No doubt it’s always been that. But at the end of the day, we have a very good DB (defensive back) room, too. We just got to make sure that we show that come Saturday because the first half of last week we didn’t show that.”
- Matt Nichols starts for the Bombers and is now 17-6 since taking the No. 1 QB chores late last July. Nichols is the CFL’s top-rated quarterback with a QUAR rating of 87.1. He is fourth in the CFL with 3,005 passing yards and has thrown 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
- Veteran Kevin Glenn, a Bomber twice in his career, has 2,730 yards this season with 19 TDs against eight interceptions and eclipsed the 50,000-passing yard mark earlier this year. His QUAR rating is 83.3, fourth in the CFL behind Nichols, Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell (85.8) and Edmonton’s Mike Reilly (85.1).
3 BOMBERS TO WATCH
#45 Jovan Santos-Knox, linebacker: The former UMass product makes his first CFL start on the weak side, replacing Kyle Knox. He’s been a beast on special teams – he leads the Bombers in kick-cover tackles – and the scouting report on him is he’s a sure tackler, solid in pass coverage, and a quick learner. He’ll need to be all of the above against the Riders.
#33 Andrew Harris, running back: He’s still tracking to become the first player in CFL history to finish a year with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Harris has 599 yards rushing and 562 yards receiving through the Bombers first 10 games.
#22 Brian Walker, defensive back: Was forced to sit out the last two games due to injury and the Bombers surely missed his physical play in the secondary. He’s listed on the latest depth chart as the back-up to Kevin Fogg at halfback, but expect him to get a ton of snaps.
#1 Darvin Adams, WR: The Riders have been effective in dropping a ton of defenders into coverage, making it difficult for Matt Nichols to find anyone running intermediate and deep routes open. Enter Adams, who has big-play capabilities and must be a difference maker all over the field. He leads the Bombers with 52 catches for 704 yards and five TDs, but was limited to just three catches for 57 yards last week.
The Bombers unveiled their 46-man roster for Saturday’s game and there are two changes: LB Jovan Santos-Knox will start for Kyle Knox, who was injured in the Labour Day Classic, while LB Kyrie Wilson has been added for DB Roc Carmichael, who left the club this week to deal with some personal matters and has been added to the suspended list.
Bombers head coach on the absence of Knox this week:
“He’s an impactful player. He’s a guy that is a terrific athlete and certainly when he arrives on the scene, there’s usually a good collision. But we’ll be good. We’ve been in this situation before and every team is faced with it. We love our depth.”
Bombers running back Andrew Harris vs. Riders middle linebacker Henoc Muamba
The Bombers running back is the workhorse of the offence, but the club had its challenges establishing the run last week – rushing 11 times for just 37 yards. Harris wasn’t shadowed by Muamba, but the former Bomber draft pick was busy making tackles, with seven, and was all around the ball.
- Weston Dressler needs 43 yards to move past Jim ‘Dirty 30’ Young into the CFL’s Top 25 for all-time receiving yards. Dressler has 648 career receptions for 9,206 yards; Young retired at 9,248 yards.
- Dating back to 2008, the Riders have had just four quarterbacks start in 22 games against the Bombers: Darian Durant (16), Kevin Glenn (2), Brett Smith (2) and Michael Bishop (2).
During that same span, the Bombers have had nine quarterbacks start against the Riders: Matt Nichols (5), Drew Willy (4), Buck Pierce (3), Kevin Glenn (2), Michael Bishop (2), Justin Goltz (2), Joey Elliott (2), Steven Jyles (1) and Brian Brohm (1).
- Riders DB Ed Gainey leads the CFL with six interceptions, all six of them coming in the last three games. Only two Riders have led the CFL in interceptions in the last 37 years – Ken McEachern had 10 in 1980 and James Patrick had nine in 2010.
- Strange, but true: in each of the last three and five of the last six Banjo Bowls, the team that trailed after the first quarter has still managed to win.
- Winnipegger and former University of Manitoba product Eddie Steele, now with the Riders, will play his 100th career game in his hometown Saturday. Running back Kienan Lafrance, another homegrown product, will make his first start for the Riders.
Steele, interestingly, also played his first game in Winnipeg as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2011.
“It’s special to be playing my 100th game in Winnipeg in front of all my friends and family and with all the support that I have there,” Steele told reporters in Regina. “Hopefully I put on a good show for them.”