Prairie rivalry starting to sputter


To suggest the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had the edge over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in recent years would be putting it lightly.

What’s considered among the CFL’s most fierce rivalries between two Prairie clubs has turned into a lopsided affair of late in favour of the Blue and Gold.

The Bombers completed a three-game, season-series sweep over the Roughriders with a convincing 31-13 win in front of a sold-out crowd at IG Field Friday night. That brings Winnipeg’s run to seven straight victories over Saskatchewan dating back to the 2019 campaign, with the Bombers outscoring the Roughriders 202-98 over that stretch — including 105 to 51 in 2022.


Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo gets to his feet after being swarmed by a horde of Winnipeg Blue Bombers Friday at IG Field.

Friday’s win secured a home playoff game for the Bombers, meaning they can finish no lower than second place in a competitive West Division. At 13-2, Winnipeg is in control of top spot in the West, with the B.C. Lions (10-4), Calgary Stampeders (10-5), Saskatchewan (6-9) and Edmonton Elks (4-11) all trailing the back-to-back Grey Cup champions.

The Bombers welcome the Elks to town on Saturday, before wrapping up the 18-game regular season with a home-and-home series against the Lions. Before we look too far ahead, let’s take a look back at Friday’s win over the Roughriders in the latest edition of 5 Takeaways.

1) The Bombers offence came out of the gate swinging, earning points on two of their first three drives and adding a second touchdown at the end of the second quarter to take a 17-3 lead at halftime. Quarterback Zach Collaros first connected with Rasheed Bailey for a 36-yard score and then, following a 22-yard field goal by Marc Liegghio, completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Nic Demski with 19 seconds left before the break.

That set up what was an ugly third quarter for the Bombers attack. They opened the frame with three straight two-and-outs, totalling just eight yards over those series, which allowed the Roughriders to claw their way back into the game, down just 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

But count this group out at your own peril, as Collaros and the offence came back to life in the final 15 minutes. They registered back-to-back touchdown drives consisting of just three completed passes — including highlight-reel touchdowns to Demski and Dalton Schoen for 42 yards and 64 yards, respectively — to put the game out of reach.

It’s an obvious point to make that touchdowns are better than field goals, and the Bombers know the impact of finishing drives with seven points rather than three better than anyone else. Winnipeg entered the game scoring a TD on nearly 25 per cent of their drives this season — the highest percentage on record since the CFL started logging possession stats in 2009 — and that number only grew with four TDs on 13 drives Friday.

2) I wrote prior to the game in my weekly 5 Storylines piece that Schoen was already a shoo-in for CFL rookie of the year. Well, after another strong performance against the Roughriders, the 25-year-old Kansas native should be getting strong consideration as not only a divisional all-star, but league all-star as well.

Schoen finished the game with four catches for a game-high 125 receiving yards and a touchdown, which was his league-leading 11th of the season. He now has 57 catches for 1,113 yards — an average of 19.5 yards per catch, which tops the CFL for receivers with at least 10 catches — to go with his 11 scores. It’s the first time Schoen has ever registered a 1,000-yard season in his years playing football.

What’s more, he has set a new franchise record for most touchdowns by a first-year receiver and needs just 260 yards to surpass Perry Tuttle, who had 1,373 in 1986, for the Bombers all-time mark in receiving yards by a rookie.

It’s been impressive to watch Schoen tear up a league he knew little about before this year. And while he may or may not rake in the accolades by season’s end, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be around for long, with NFL clubs surely keeping a close eye on the budding star.


Bombers receiver Nic Demski hauls in a second-half touchdown pass that covered 42 yards.

3) The Bombers defence had a rare off-night in a 48-31 Week 15 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in a game they were responsible for 41 of those points against. After returning from the bye week, they vowed to be better against the Roughriders and they lived up to that promise.

The defence limited Saskatchewan to 13 points — one TD and a pair of field goals — and 390 net offensive yards. They were beasts on second down, with Saskatchewan converting just 38 per cent of its chances, and forced six turnovers, including three turnover-on-downs, a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery.

And in what’s been a theme pretty much all season, they saved their best for last. The Roughriders were bullied by the defence in the fourth quarter, a frame where they were held to just three points,14 total plays for 81 yards and had a pair of turnovers.

Thanks to a suffocating defensive effort, the Bombers have outscored their opponents 142-60 in the fourth quarter. That’s a plus-82 differential.

The only knock against the defence was that they weren’t able to register a single quarterback sack for a second straight game, despite the Roughriders giving up a league-leading 59 sacks, including 22 over their previous four games. The Bombers also didn’t surrender a sack, so it equaled out.

4) The Roughriders are reeling. And there’s a chance they might even miss the playoffs in a year they’re hosting the Grey Cup.

There was a ton of promise for Saskatchewan heading into the season, and that excitement was only extrapolated with a 4-1 start. It’s been miserable ever since, with the Roughriders winning just twice in their last 10 games.

Injuries have been an issue, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, as other teams, including the Bombers, have also dealt with their fair share. What’s clear is that whatever is ailing this club, they better figure it out soon or risk their season ending by month’s end.

Friday’s loss meant the only-case scenario for Saskatchewan to make the post-season is to earn a crossover through the East Division. They currently have the edge over the Tiger-Cats, who are 4-10, but face a difficult final stretch to end the regular season.

Of the Roughriders’ three remaining games, they play the Ticats, in Hamilton, followed by back-to-back games against the Stampeders. If they lose out, Hamilton will need to win just one of its three remaining games, with dates with the Stampeders and a pair against the lowly 3-11 Ottawa Redblacks to close out the year.


Rookie receiver Dalton Schoen (left) and QB Zach Collaros collaborated on a touchdown.

5) As a final takeaway, shout out to the fans that have been coming out in droves to watch the Bombers at IG Field. It was the second straight full house (33,234) of the season and the fourth with at least 30,000 fans, bringing Winnipeg’s average attendance to a CFL-leading 29,562.

The atmosphere has been awesome to witness, especially for a league that lives and dies at the gate. For the Bombers, it’s a big reason for why they’ve only lost twice in the last 23 games on home turf.

“The support we get here in Winnipeg is incredible. The energy we’ve been able to bring back to the city and the pride is so much fun to see evolve,” said Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill.

“So many people are so hyped about what we’re doing right now and what we’ve done. And it’s fun that a lot of people want to be a part of it.”

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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.