By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — It was more than the lopsided score that had Zach Collaros proud of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ offence on Saturday. It was the way they did it.
The Bombers quarterback threw for four touchdowns as the two-time defending Grey Cup champions scored on their first eight possessions in a crushing 54-20 win over a Saskatchewan Roughriders squad that was battling a bad stomach virus.
“I think it’s special,” Collaros said of the six touchdowns and two field goals scored in the run of possessions.
“It was really efficient. We were really good on first down and we had a handful of second-and-ones.”
The Bombers (12-1) actually finished the CFL contest scoring on nine of 10 drives in front of a sold-out crowd of 33,234 fans at IG Field for the 18th edition of the Banjo Bowl.
Collaros completed 21-of-25 pass attempts for 273 yards and no interceptions. He was replaced by Dru Brown with nine minutes left in the final quarter.
After Winnipeg kicker Marc Liegghio finally punted with three minutes left in the game, Brown threw his first CFL touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to Dalton Schoen with 42 seconds left in the game.
Winnipeg has clinched the three-game CFL season series with Saskatchewan (6-7) after beating the Riders 20-18 in last weekend’s Labour Day Classic. The third game is in Winnipeg on Sept. 30.
Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo said it was a tough outing before the team even hit the field.
“It started with walking into the locker room and it looked like a triage in there,” Fajardo said. “The amount of guys that were sick, throwing up, coming out both ends, it was pretty ridiculous.
“I have a lot of heart for those guys. Our entire offensive line was sick and they went out. We were giving them IVs just to get them on the field. We didn’t have anything else to do.”
Fajardo, who said he only felt weak and didn’t vomit, was 15-of-18 passing for 124 yards with no TDs and no picks. Jake Dolegala replaced him late in the fourth.
Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson estimated 15 players and seven or eight coaches were sick with some type of virus not related to COVID-19. He was one of them.
Dickenson said he went to a Mexican restaurant in Winnipeg Friday night and had a burrito. His stomach felt upset later than night at the hotel. He threw up five times and knew it was more than food poisoning.
“It was a nasty one. I was probably as sick as I’ve ever been for about 12 hours,” he said.
When he talked to the team’s trainer, he was told a lot of players were in the same boat. It meant the roster was juggled.
Backup quarterback Mason Fine couldn’t dress so third-stringer Dolegala was flown in, Dickenson said. Some players dressed but didn’t play, including receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker. Offensive lineman Josiah St. John couldn’t finish the game.
“That group in there gutted it out,” Dickenson said. “We’re not happy with the score and we feel like we are a better team than that, but that was a depleted group in there. The ones that were playing, half of them were sick.
“You’re going to need your best team and your guys healthy to even stay with Winnipeg, let alone beat them at their place. But I’m proud of them. They gutted it out, did the best they could with some real tough circumstances.”
Winnipeg led 6-0 after the first quarter, 27-10 at halftime and 37-20 after the third.
Bombers receiver Nic Demski caught TD passes of 16 and 18 yards. Rasheed Bailey hauled in a 34-yard TD reception and Brendan O’Leary-Orange recorded his first CFL TD with a 10-yard catch. Backup Bombers quarterback Dakota Prukop ran in for two TDs from three and one yard out.
Liegghio booted field goals from 45 and 23 yards, and made six of his seven convert attempts.
Saskatchewan receiver Mario Alford recorded a 92-yard kickoff return for a TD and Fajardo pushed in for a one-yard TD. Kicker Brett Lauther connected on field goals from 53 and 34 yards, and two converts.
Demski said he wasn’t aware some of the Roughriders were ill.
“I talked to a couple of guys after the game that I knew and they told me that,” he said. “Hopefully, they all get better and kudos to them for coming out and playing a hard game.”