On the grandest of occasions, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers handed the Saskatchewan Roughriders their first defeat of the season in the official return of the Labour Day Classic.
A defensive seesaw battle saw the Bomber pick up a 23-8 win, just their second victory in Regina on Labour Day weekend in the last fifteen years.
The Blue Bomber defense intercepted Cody Fajardo four times while back-up Blue Bomber quarterback Sean McGuire rushed for two one-yard scores.
Winnipeg’s third touchdown came courtesy of Nic Demski in his return to the line-up on a 27-yard dart by Zach Collaros in the fourth quarter.
Collaros threw for 245 yards and a touchdown while completing 19 of 27 attempted passes. He threw one interception as well.
“Our guys played extremely well in a dog fight,” said head coach Mike O’Shea.
“Their offensive has the ability to drive down the field and their defence has the ability to make big plays.”
His counterpart Fajardo tossed three interceptions while going 23-for-39 in the air for 213 yards.
Andrew Harris rushed for 95 yards on 18 carries.
The first time Winnipeg’s offence saw the field, Andrew Harris ran the ball six times as part of a ten-play drive ending in a Marc Leigghio 57-yard field goal attempt.
Leigghio’s kick dropped well short of the goal line on the longest attempt of his brief four-game CFL career.
The Blue Bomber defence came up with a huge play just minutes later with Brandon Alexander intercepting Cody Fajardo in between the hashmarks before running it back for 20 yards.
“We were getting off the field, getting two-and-outs and making it hard for (Riders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo) to find his reads. We were just in his face so he had to throw the ball on the move,” said Bombers’ defensive end Willie Jefferson after the win.
“We played a hard game, defensive-wise. Our offence stayed on the field and was able to put up a couple points and give us a break. But when the defence got on the field we tried to be nasty, we tried to be tough, we tried to be relentless and keep them out of field goal range. We did our job.”
The Bombers ended up on the goal line and back-up quarterback Sean McGuire punched it in from the one yard-line to open the scoring.
Zach Collaros threw an interception of his own near the end of the first quarter but the Riders were unable to capitalize with points. Winnipeg led 7-0 after fifteen minutes of play.
After picking up a rouge on a 50-yard Jon Ryan punt, the Rider offence went right to work upon getting the ball back.
Fajardo and company set up Brett Lauther up for a 54-yard moonshot and Lauther split the uprights making it a 7-4 ball game.
Collaros threw another interception in the second quarter but it was overturned by the command centre after Ed Gainey appeared to let the ball touch the turf as he hit the ground.
The pass was intended for Nic Demski in his return to the Blue Bomber lineup after missing two weeks with a hip injury.
Cody Fajardo briefly left the game after colliding with one of his offensive linemen while in the arms of Winnipeg’s Jackson Jeffcoat.
The veteran pivot returned on Saskatchewan’s next drive leading his team down the field, setting up yet another field goal try for Lauther.
Lauther missed his first field goal of the year wide left on a 36-yard attempt but picked up a single point to pull his team within two points.
At the other end of the field, Leigghio lined up from 47-yards out with 43 seconds left in the first half. The rookie kicker missed way right but was taken down moments after the boot.
A flag was thrown for roughing the kicker but the call was reversed after a lengthy challenge initiated by Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson.
Saskatchewan kept the ball with seconds on the clock and managed to nail a 33-yard field goal with five seconds to go.
The Riders took their first lead of the game into the locker room at half time 8-7.
Zach Collaros responded to a broken down pass play early in the third quarter by scampering for 17-yards.
The defensive battle continued after the Rider defence picked up another stop forcing Leigghio to punt for a third time.
Collaros called his own number yet again, this time taking off for ten yards along drawing a horse collar tackle penalty, putting the football at the Saskatchewan 40-yard line.
Two plays later, Collaros chucked a bomb into the end zone for Darvin Adams. Ed Gainey was called for pass interference and the ball was placed at the one-yard line.
Sean McGuire took charge and plunged across the goal line for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
The Bombers attempted a two-point convert to no avail as Collaros couldn’t connect with Kenny Lawler at the nearside goal line.
Winnipeg began the final quarter perfectly with an interception by rookie cornerback Deatrick Nichols, number two of the afternoon for the Bomber defence.
The next time Fajardo attempted a pass on Saskatchewan’s next possession, he was promptly picked off by Brandon Alexander.
The turnover led to Marc Leigghio drilling his first field goal of the game from 37-yards away to give the Bombers a 16-8 lead with just under ten minutes left.
The Bombers added a late touchdown courtesy of Nic Demski in his return to the line-up on a 27-yard dart from Collaros.
Winnipeg improves to 4-1 on the season while Saskatchewan falls to 3-1.
The Bombers return to IG Field next Saturday for the banjo bowl at 3 p.m. central time. The pre-game show begins at 1 p.m. on 680 CJOB.