Bombers receivers need to be better against Riders in the Banjo Bowl

Drew Wolitarsky and Darvin Adams want to lend quarterback Matt Nichols a helping hand. Or rather, make that hands.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers receivers know Nichols’ play during the team’s three-game losing skid has been criticized and they say it’s time the entire offence steps up.

They’re hoping that starts with Saturday’s Banjo Bowl against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which will feature the first sellout of 33,134 fans at Investors Group Field this season.

“You want to help him out,” Wolitarsky said of Nichols after Friday’s walk-through. “He’s a great leader.

“We love Matt so much and it’s unfortunate the press he sometimes gets and he kind of takes it on his shoulders and we know that.”

Winnipeg (5-6) will try to avoid a fourth straight loss for the first time since the middle of the 2015 season.

Saskatchewan (6-4) is riding a three-game winning streak and last won four straight in 2016.

The Bombers have won the past three Banjo Bowl games, with Nichols at the helm, and four of the last five. Nichols never has lost four in a row in his career.

Saskatchewan quarterback Zach Collaros has won his last three starts after going 1-14. His career-long win streak is five in 2015.

Wolitarsky said the Bombers receiving corps has Nichols’ back.

“We meet with him and we just tell him, ‘Like listen man, we want to do better, we want to do better for you and we need to win this game and we want to win this game. We want to win out,”’ the second-year receiver said.

“It’s up to us, too. He gets a bad rap, but sometimes it’s our fault and no one really sees that so we’ve just got to stay united, and we are.”

In the final minute of Winnipeg’s 31-23 loss to Saskatchewan last weekend, Nichols threw a pass to Wolitarsky that was intercepted by Saskatchewan defensive back Ed Gainey.

It was a case of “miscommunication,” Wolitarsky said, adding those “drive-stoppers” and some dropped balls have hurt at key times.

“We’re all human at the end of the day,” Adams said. “Everything don’t go as planned. If that was the case, then everybody would be doing real good.”

Adams leads Winnipeg with 38 catches for 590 yards and seven touchdowns, good for 11th in CFL receiving yards this season.

“All we have to do is make plays. We make plays and everything will be better,” Adams said.

Saskatchewan head coach Chris Jones passed by Nichols in the stadium hallway Friday as both were on their way to media interviews.

They know each other from when Jones was coaching the Edmonton Eskimos and Nichols was the backup to Mike Reilly.

Jones was asked if he’s seen a difference in the way Nichols is playing lately.

“He just passed by here a little while ago and you can tell that it’s weighing on him and that type of thing,” Jones said.

“He’s a good quarterback. He’s been one of the big reasons they’ve had success over here.”

He expects Nichols’s competitive nature will be burning in the rematch.

“He’s hit a bump in the road and we better be prepared,” Jones said.

Bombers running back Andrew Harris, who rushed for 158 yards on 15 carries last week, said his team needs a victory to stay in the mix in the tight West Division.

“It’s a game we’ve got to win, given the fact we play this team three times,” Harris said. “It’s a game we’ve got to win to potentially set up a tiebreaker for the final match.

“But most importantly, just to get our mojo back and get in a rhythm and get back in the win column.”

Harris is 37 yards shy of recording the fourth 1,000-yard season of his career.


Saturday, Investors Group Field

NO PROLIFIC PASSING: Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols and Saskatchewan’s Zach Collaros are the only pivots with at least five starts who haven’t thrown for more than 300 yards in a game this season.

GREEN IS THE COLOUR: Riders head coach Chris Jones has won three straight games while wearing a green T-shirt instead of his usual black attire. He said he won’t change because his players would “probably kill me.”

EARLY ADVANTAGE: The team that’s scored first in the Banjo Bowl has won 10 out of 14 games (71 per cent).

– CP

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