Bombers win Banjo Bowl, extend win streak to six

Matt Nichols had a message for fans after his team extended their win streak on Saturday.

The quarterback ran in for a pair of one-yard touchdowns as Winnipeg pushed its streak to six games with a 17-10 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“We would love for everyone to just understand that we’re a very tough football group,” said Nichols, who completed 21-of-31 pass attempts for 247 yards and no interceptions.

“We’re the next-man up mentality. We’re hard workers.”

The victory, in front of a sold-out Banjo Bowl crowd of 33,234 at Investors Group Field, gives the Bombers (7-4) their first six-game win streak since 2001.

Saskatchewan (1-10) has now lost seven in a row.

The Bombers needed the next players in line as they were without three key starters for the second half, including running back Andrew Harris (lower body), linebacker Ian Wild (upper body) and receiver Ryan Smith (hand), who had just come off the six-game injured list. Backup defensive back/special-teamer Brendan Morgan also left the game. There were no updates of their conditions.

Nichols, who’s thrown only one interception the past six games since taking over for starter Drew Willy, showed his toughness in scoring the team’s second touchdown to break a tie.

Saskatchewan had evened the game 10-10 in the third quarter, but Winnipeg capitalized on a fourth-quarter turnover.

Bombers defensive back Kevin Fogg, who earlier had a 76-yard punt return erased by a penalty (his third nixed TD return this season), stripped the ball after Caleb Holley made a catch. Bombers defensive back Johnny Adams recovered at Winnipeg’s own 16-yard line.

Nichols then led the offence on a six-play, 94-yard drive that he capped off with his TD plunge at 4:56. He had run 15 yards in the drive to get to Saskatchewan’s one-yard line and finished with five carries for 20 yards.

“Sometimes in situations like that, when everybody was dropping out, you’ve got to take off and use your legs,” Nichols said. “I think when your teammates see that you’re willing to go put your body on the line, it just gets everyone fired up.”

Julian Feoli-Gudino, who had replaced Smith, stepped up with a 38-yard catch early in the drive.

The Riders got to midfield with five minutes left in the game and looked to be lining up for a 56-yard field goal on third and three, but then backup QB/holder Brandon Bridge got the ball and tried to run. Bombers defensive back Terrence Frederick then raced in and sacked him.

Bombers kicker Justin Medlock missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute that Riders receiver Kendial Lawrence ran out 76 yards, but most of the gain was nixed by a penalty.

Medlock booted one field goal from 34 yards and went wide on attempts from 49 and 48 yards. He was good on his two converts.

Naaman Roosevelt caught a 12-yard TD pass for the Riders and finished with six catches for 121 yards. Tyler Crapigna was good on his one field-goal attempt from 14 yards and made his convert.

“We’ve just got to finish,” said Roosevelt, who now has 1,095 yards receiving from 76 catches. “We fought hard. Our defence played great today.”

Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant was 23-of-36 passing for 283 yards with one TD and no picks.

“All in all, it’s just another tough loss,” Durant said. “We had our chances and for whatever reason, things just are not falling our way.”

Saskatchewan led 3-0 after the first quarter, but Winnipeg held a 10-3 lead at halftime.

The Riders’ first possession of the game ended with a field goal at 6:11 after they were stopped three times at Winnipeg’s one-yard line and once from the six. The field goal halted Saskatchewan’s run of four games without a point in the first quarter.

Bombers receiver Weston Dressler, who had a game-high seven catches for 135 yards against his former team, appreciated his teammates’ efforts, especially from Nichols.

“The guy’s a fighter,” Dressler said of the pivot. “You’ve seen that throughout the six weeks that he’s been in.”

Notes: Winnipeg hasn’t won the double-header Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl games since the first year the bowl game began in 2004.

– CP