Bombers win final Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium on penalty-aided final drive (& 14 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the final Labour Day Classic at old Mosaic Stadium on Sunday afternoon by a final score of 28-25. It was the Bombers’ first Labour Day victory since 2004 and their first win at Mosaic since week one of last season.

2. Let’s address the late-game pass interference call that negated Justin Cox’s fourth quarter interception (video below). Do I believe the flag was justified? No. It was a borderline infraction that shouldn’t have been called. Video replay was expanded last season to review penalties such as this — officials, like everyone, make mistakes and it’s important to correct them whenever possible. This is why it was foolish of Chris Jones to use his final challenge of the game on a third quarter pass that was dropped in the end zone by Naaman Roosevelt. TSN’s reverse angle clearly showed that Roosevelt failed to secure the football, rendering the challenge pointless. Worse yet, the play took place on first down — the drop hadn’t halted Saskatchewan’s drive or its momentum (incidentally, the drive would end moments later on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Holley). Had Jones saved his final challenge for the fourth quarter, his Riders may very well have won the Labour Day Classic for the twelfth consecutive time.

3. Speaking of Sunday’s controversial pass interference call, let’s not forget that the Riders played a mistake-ridden game against Winnipeg. The gamble on third and 3? The bizarre fake punt to Ed Gainey? Two fourth quarter interceptions? Two missed field goals? These are all mistakes that went into the result of Sunday’s game (which, in fairness, featured a ton of mistakes from the Bombers, too). To simply chalk the Riders’ loss to a bad penalty would be unfair — Sunday’s game was decided on a combination of 158 plays, not just one.

4. It’s time for the Bombers to revamp their red zone playbook. Winnipeg settled for far too many field goals last week in Montreal (6), allowing the Alouettes to hang around late into the fourth quarter of the game. The same thing happened in Saskatchewan with Medlock booting eight field goal attempts — seven of which were successful — while the Riders were scoring touchdowns. Field goals may be enough to (barely) beat Saskatchewan and Montreal, but this team will need touchdowns if they hope to make any noise in the West Division later this season.

5. Allow me to publicly apologize to Justin Medlock for this comment made in reference to the value of his contract. The 32-year-old has now made 33 of 38 field goals this season with a long of 58 yards. He’s been worth every penny of his big-ticket free agent contract.

6. Speaking of Medlock, I was surprised to see the Bomber specialist err from his precise directional punting late in the game. Medlock’s 60-yard punt to Kendial Lawrence was great for distance, but set-up the Rider returner with a ton of space to work with. Winnipeg’s punt coverage couldn’t keep up with the distance and the ball landed close to the centre of the field — always a reason for concern. While the cover unit is always ultimately at fault for a return touchdown, Medlock sacrificing some distance to punt the ball closer to the sideline would likely have limited Lawrence’s return.

7. The span of Winnipeg’s last five victories: 38 days. The span of Saskatchewan’s last five victories: 671 days. That’s wild.

8. Blue Bomber offensive line coach Bob Wylie was said to have collapsed on his way to the locker room after the game. Fortunately, it has since been reported that Wylie, 65, is healthy and back on his feet. Good to hear.

9. The Bombers honoured the late Jerry Maslowsky with a ‘JM’ helmet decal on Sunday afternoon. Maslowsky, 58, passed away late Saturday night after a short battle with cancer. He was a member of the Blue Bomber organization from 2000-2014 before leaving to become the CEO of Variety Children’s Charity in Winnipeg. It’s fitting that another J.M. (Justin Medlock) won Sunday’s game over Saskatchewan on a last-second field goal. My condolences to the family of Mr. Maslowsky; while I never had the opportunity to meet Jerry, he was as highly regarded in the Winnipeg sports community as anyone.

10. It was nice to see Matt Nichols open things up more than he had in previous weeks, hitting Quincy McDuffie for an 82-yard touchdown early in the game. Nichols is at his best when he focuses on managing the game, but it’s critical that he’s also able to air it out when necessary. With Ryan Smith expected to return to the line-up next week, it will be interesting to see if Nichols throws the deep ball more often with an elite deep threat at his disposal.

11. Two fourth quarter interceptions aside, Sunday’s game was disastrous for the Blue Bomber secondary. Johnny Adams struggled mightily against rookie Caleb Holley, often looking flat-footed and out of position after the catch. Adams will need to return to his 2015 form if he is to keep his starting spot when Chris Randle returns from injury.

12. Speaking of Holley, it appears the Riders have found a keeper in the former member of the Arena League’s L.A. KISS. Lots of tall, speedy receivers find fleeting success early-on in their CFL careers, but I think Holley is for real. He’s smooth, has solid hands, and is surprisingly elusive after the catch for someone his size (6’4, 200).

13. Sunday was a rough outing for Rider kicker Tyler Crapigna. Crapigna came into the game second in the CFL in field goal percentage (90.4), good on 19 of 21 attempts. After a 1-for-3 performance versus Winnipeg that included a crucial fourth quarter convert miss, is there a chance the Riders look to sign one of Swayze Waters or Sergio Castillo?

14. The Bomber offensive line allowed two sacks on Sunday, one of which came on a poorly-executed quarterback draw late in the game. Winnipeg has now allowed eight sacks in Nichols’ five starts (1.6 per game), half the number that the Bombers allowed in Drew Willy’s five starts (16).

15. The Bombers play the second half of their back-to-back to Saskatchewan next Saturday at 2:00 PM CDT. A Winnipeg victory would extend the Bombers’ winning streak to six games, their longest since their nine-game winning streak that straddled the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Stay tuned.

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