BIg Blue strum right notes in Banjo Bowl


The hits keep on coming for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their pursuit of back-to-back Grey Cup titles.

The latest came on Saturday, with the Bombers once again finding their rhythm in the second half to defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders, 33-9, in the annual Banjo Bowl game at IG Field. The victory, which came in front of a sold-out crowd of 33,234, keeps Winnipeg atop the charts in the West Division, improving their record to 5-1.

It was the first sellout at IG Field since the 2019 Banjo Bowl. In perfect football conditions, with the sun shining and only a bit of wind, the fans were engaged all game. They inspired the Bombers defence and threw off Saskatchewan’s offence with their constant barrage of noise, erupting after each of Winnipeg’s season-high five touchdowns.

“Hey, man, 33,000 (fans), we gave them exactly what they wanted. They wanted smoke; we gave them smoke. We gave them action,” Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson said after the game.

“Come on down to Winnipeg. This is what we want to do. We want to entertain our fans and if our fans could come out and give us the noise that we need on defence, and special teams, and pump up our offence when we need it, we need that. Keep on bringing that.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Jonathan Kongbo (2) and Alden Darby (22) sack Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Isaac Harker (16) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Jonathan Kongbo (2) and Alden Darby (22) sack Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Isaac Harker (16) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

It was the second win in as many weeks for the Bombers against the Roughriders, who drop to 3-2 after opening the season with three straight victories. With Winnipeg claiming last week’s Labour Day Classic in Regina, it’s just the third time since the inaugural Banjo Bowl in 2004 the Bombers have earned the two-game series sweep.

The victory also gives the Bombers some breathing room at the top of the division, four points up on the Roughriders — with one more game played — and even more on Edmonton (2-3), B.C. (2-2) and Calgary (2-4). Winnipeg is a perfect 3-0 against teams in the West, and will have an opportunity to continue their dominance with four straight inter-divisional games on tap.

“If you don’t come with your A game, you gonna be in for a long day,” added Jefferson.

For a second straight week the Bombers were led by the defence in the early going, with the offence eventually finding their groove in the second half. There was plenty lacking by the home side through the opening 30 minutes, as the Roughriders dictated much of the play.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Sean McGuire (12) and Andrew Harris (33) celebrate McGuire’s touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Sean McGuire (12) and Andrew Harris (33) celebrate McGuire’s touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg trailed briefly, 9-6, until NO. 2 QB Sean McGuire’s second of three one-yard rushing scores on the day put the Bombers up for good late in the second frame. A brawl erupted following the touchdown, only adding to the Bombers fire, with bodies from both teams flying in all directions, including some punches thrown.

When the dust finally settled, it was the Roughriders that were left reeling, as defensive back A.J. Hendy and defensive tackle Garrett Marino, both starters, were ejected.

Saskatchewan was already short on defence, without a pair of starting halfbacks in Ed Gainey and Loucheiz Purifoy, both of whom suffered injuries last week. Defensive end A.C Leonard was also sidelined, serving the first of a two-game suspension for being unable to provide a sample for drug testing.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris (33) fights with Saskatchewan Roughriders' Micah Johnson (2) and Christian Campbell (38) during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Andrew Harris (33) fights with Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Micah Johnson (2) and Christian Campbell (38) during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

The Bombers were lucky to leave the kerfuffle without any ejections, though supplementary disciple might still be coming.

“I saw some guy on top of Sean, put his elbow in there, so that’s why I got involved, and all of a sudden I got rag dolled by Micah Johnson and then all of a sudden you know I saw another guy go on top of Andrew (Harris),” said Nic Demski, who led all receivers with five catches for 134 yards.

“I was just trying to look out for my teammates and really I was just trying to split everything up. But obviously, I got myself involved in that…. We’ll see what happens with that. I mean, these games, there’s a lot of emotion, a lot of intensity out there and you got to sometimes put that emotion away.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Drew Wolitarsky (82) gets tackled by a Saskatchewan Roughrider during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Drew Wolitarsky (82) gets tackled by a Saskatchewan Roughrider during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

The game started to get out of reach when starting QB Zach Collaros connected with a wide open Darvin Adams for a 39-yard touchdown that put the Bombers up 26-9 early in the fourth. Not done there, Collaros, who finished 18-of-22 passing for 278 yards and two touchdowns, found Kenny Lawler in the end zone for a 40-yard score. Winnipeg finished with 416 yards on offence, including 80 yards on 18 carries by Harris.

“We know what we’re capable of in that room, but we all feel that we haven’t put a good product out there on film,” Demski said. “It felt great just for everything to come together and even saying that we feel like we still left some plays out there.”

Winnipeg didn’t need the points, not with the way their defence has performed in the second half this season. For a second straight game the Bombers shut out the Roughriders in the final two quarters and for a third straight game prevented Saskatchewan from scoring a touchdown, with kicker Brett Lauther’s three field goals accounting for the visitor’s points. The last touchdown the Roughriders scored against the Bombers was back on Oct. 5, 2019, when Cody Fajardo connected with Shaq Evans on a 61-yarder.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Mike Jones (16) tackles Saskatchewan Roughriders' William Powell (29) during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Mike Jones (16) tackles Saskatchewan Roughriders’ William Powell (29) during first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Fajardo, who finished 11-for-17 for 169 yards and one interception, was unable to finish the game after suffering a suspected concussion following a Jefferson sack on the first drive of the second half. He was replaced by Isaac Harker, who was able to move the ball downfield, completing 10 passes for 89 yards, but couldn’t garner any points against a stingy defence.

Incredibly, Winnipeg has surrendered just three points in the fourth quarter through six games. And with the offence also clicking, it was as a complete game as we’ve seen from the Bombers this season.

“It’s a glimpse of what we can do, for sure, and it’s a glimpse of what we’re working toward,” linebacker Adam Bighill said. “I like what we see and we’re just gonna keep pushing to keep getting that effort and that performance.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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