By Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press
REGINA — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers continued to prove they have one of the best defences in the CFL with a 23-8 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.
Trailing 8-7 at the half, the Bombers defence shut out the Riders in the second half while the Winnipeg offence scored 16 unanswered points to earn the victory. The Bombers limited the Riders to 258 yards of offence.
“It was a big game and we were just sticking to the game plan, doing what we have to do,” said defensive lineman Willie Jefferson, who played three seasons for the Riders before signing with the Bombers in 2019. “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.
“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.”
In the second half the Bombers got touchdowns from backup quarterback Sean McGuire and receiver Nic Demski, along with a Marc Liegghio field goal, to hand the Riders their first loss of the season.
The win moves the Bombers (4-1) into first place in the West Division with the Riders (3-1) sliding to second place.
McGuire capped a seven-play, 87-yard drive at 4:43 of the third quarter with his second rushing major of the game.
Bombers tailback Andrew Harris had runs of 20 and 15 yards in the drive. Winnipeg took advantage of two Rider penalties totalling 39 yards, including a pass interference penalty that placed the ball on the one-yard line.
Harris ran for 95 yards in the encounter, the exact total needed to move into seventh place overall in the CFL career rushing list. Harris now has 9,214 career rushing yards, one more than Joffrey Reynolds. Mike Pringle is the all-time leader with 16,425.
After Liegghio’s 37-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Bombers put the game away when Zach Collaros combined with Demski on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 5:12 left in the game. Demski was returning after missing two games with a hip injury.
Fajardo, who entered the game leading the CFL in completion percentage at 78.9 per cent, struggled against a ferocious Winnipeg defence. Fajardo finished the game 23 of 39 passing for 211 yards and three interceptions.
“It’s probably the worst game I’ve played as a professional,” said Fajardo. “For me, after you throw three picks you might as well keep slinging it. If you throw four picks, you throw four picks. If you throw five picks, you throw five picks.
“I’m never worried about statistics. I’m trying to do everything in my power to help my team win and I definitely didn’t put us in a good situation today.”
Collaros, who lost the Riders starting QB job to Fajardo in 2019 after suffering a concussion in the season opener, completed 19-of-27 passes for 245 yards. He had one touchdown pass and one interception.
The Bombers started the game committed to the run with Harris carrying the ball on six of the first nine plays. Harris gained 30 yards on the six carries with a long run of seven yards.
Winnipeg got on the scoreboard first following a Brandon Alexander interception that gave the Bombers the ball on the Rider 45-yard line. Collaros struck quickly, connecting with Kenny Lawler on a 40-yard reception along the sideline. Following a four-yard reception by Darvin Adams to take the ball to the Rider one-yard line, McGuire snuck into the end zone for his first CFL touchdown.
The final minute of the half was somewhat confusing after Liegghio missed a 47-yard field goal that Jamal Morrow returned 75 yards to the Winnipeg 37-yard line.
However, the officials penalized the Riders for roughing the kicker, although replays appeared to show Liegghio starting to run downfield after the kick, tripping and falling to the turf. The call was confirmed by the CFL control centre, which led Riders coach Craig Dickenson to challenge the call.
After the review, the call was overturned, giving the ball to the Riders with 17 seconds remaining. After a 12-yard completion to Jordan Williams-Lambert, the half ended with Brett Lauther kicking a 33-yard field goal to give the Riders an 8-7 lead.
Both quarterbacks were banged up in the first half. Collaros went to the dressing room after the first quarter but returned for the next offensive series. Fajardo was injured on a scramble in the second quarter and appeared to hurt his right shoulder.
The teams meet again Saturday in Winnipeg.