Bombers collapse on final drive, narrowly lose in Regina (& nine other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 19-17 in Sunday’s Labour Day Classic in front of 33,356 fans at sold-out New Mosiac Stadium.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

Struggling to fini–

Winnipeg’s defence had a strong performance on Sunday, recording five sacks and two interceptions. The Riders were limited to 370 yards of offence, which is impressive considering how little the Bombers controlled the football in the first half.

The Riders had excellent field position throughout the first quarter and were held to just 10 points. Saskatchewan would add just three field goals over the game’s final 45 minutes despite generating a second interception in the third quarter.

This is the CFL — when you only allow 19 points, your team should win.

Even so, it’s impossible to ignore the extent to which Winnipeg’s defence collapsed on the game’s final drive. Cody Fajardo drove his team 87 yards on 12 plays, chewing up the last three minutes and 18 seconds on the clock.

The Bombers limited William Powell to 20 yards on four carries until Saskatchewan’s final drive of the game. Powell would rush four times for 39 yards when it mattered most, helping his team set-up a game-winning field goal.

It would be unfair to blame the Blue Bomber defence for Sunday’s loss given how long it took the offence to score a major. But finishing off a once-promising performance with a soft game-ending drive was disappointing, to say the least.

Here’s Johnny!

I don’t cheer for the Bombers — or any CFL team, for the matter — but I have been an unabashed fan of Johnny Augustine for well over two years now. It was awesome to see the young tailback start his first CFL game and make the most of the opportunity.

The University of Guelph product tested well at the 2017 CFL combine and set the one-on-one drills on fire. I’ll never forget watching Augustine crush linebackers Jordan and Justin Herdman — the Winnipeg-born twins now starting in B.C. and Toronto, respectively — on back-to-back reps.

Yet Augustine went unselected on draft day. The 26-year-old doesn’t have a huge frame (five-foot-eight and 202 pounds) and plays a position where Canadians often struggle to find work. Why invest in a local kid when American running backs are a dime a dozen?

A number of top draft choices from 2017 have struggled to make an impact at the professional level. Defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie (first overall) retired in July after being cut by his second CFL team, while receiver Danny Vandervoort (third overall) and defensive tackle Randy Colling (sixth overall) are both free agents.

Though it took awhile to find consistent work, Augustine is on pace to have a better career than many of the players who were selected on draft day.

Augustine had brief stints in Edmonton and Saskatchewan prior to signing with Winnipeg ahead of last year’s training camp. An 81-yard preseason performance against the Eskimos helped him win a job, splitting time between the active and practice rosters in 2018.

The Welland, Ontario native became Andrew Harris’ primary back-up when Brady Oliveira underwent surgery in June. Starting in place of Harris (suspended) on Sunday, Augustine recorded 12 carries for 98 yards and three receptions for 17 yards.

It took over two years for him to get his chance, but Johnny Augustine is proving why teams should have selected him on draft day.

Fake irony

The Bombers got a first down early in the fourth quarter on a fake field goal from Saskatchewan’s 31-yard line.

Tui Eli — the club’s back-up centre — lined up as the snapper on the play, which would normally be a giveaway for the fake. Long snapper Chad Rempel left the game in the first half due to injury, however, which made Eli’s presence a little less conspicuous.

Ironically, Winnipeg lost 14 yards on the following play due to an intentional grounding penalty. Saskatchewan then sniffed out the draw on second down, stopping Augustine for a two-yard loss.

After passing up a 38-yard field goal attempt from Justin Medlock for the fake, Winnipeg was forced to punt. In a game the Bombers lost by two points, that’s unbelievably ironic.

Southern reinforcements?

Saturday was the deadline for NFL training camp cuts and we tracked every CFL-related move on 3DownNation.

I’ve had a number of people ask me if any castoffs could end up with the Bombers and I believe the answer is no. Winnipeg has the cap space to add an impact player, sure, but I don’t see a fit.

Many players who were cut have rights that belong to other CFL teams, including receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert (Saskatchewan), tight end Like Willson (Toronto), offensive lineman Austin Pasztor (Edmonton), and defensive end Mathieu Betts (Edmonton).

There are plenty of defensive backs available — Jonathon Mincy, Jeff Richards, Dexter McCoil — but I’m not convinced the Bombers needs help in the secondary. Mercy Maston and Brandon Alexander should return from injury soon, which should help with depth down the stretch.

If there is any position the Bombers could stand to upgrade it’s receiver. Given that the team just released Chris Matthews — a four-year NFL player — it’s unlikely any new recruits would do much to fill the void.

New pivot

The Bombers added Kevin Anderson to the club’s practice roster on Wednesday, a quarterback out of Fordham University they had in rookie camp.

Winnipeg tried to lure Kevin Glenn out of retirement and were unsuccessful in recruiting Drew Willy back to the club. With Brandon Bridge not garnering interest from the team, it doesn’t appear that the club will be adding a veteran quarterback this season.

Chris Streveler hasn’t passed very well as the club’s starter, completing 23-of-41 attempts for 250 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions over two games. But, barring injury, expect the 24-year-old to remain Winnipeg’s starter.

Turf traditions

I’m a big fan of the CFL’s new ‘turf traditions’ collection, a line of merchandise that celebrates the league’s heritage.

Saskatchewan wears throwback uniforms every Labour Day — seen below — and they are outstanding. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Riders should make these outfits their full-time look.

The grass isn’t always greener

Micah Johnson was dominant with the Calgary Stampeders last season, recording 28 tackles, 14 sacks and three forced fumbles in 17 games. It was arguably the best season ever for a CFL defensive tackle, culminating in a Grey Cup championship.

Johnson signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent in February, inking a one-year contract worth $250,000. The deal made the 31-year-old one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league.

The seven-year veteran hasn’t come close to replicating that success in Riderville, recording zero sacks through nine games in green and white. Johnson was a factor on Sunday with two tackles but didn’t look like the all-star he was a year ago.

I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see Johnson follow the same path as Derek Dennis, returning to Calgary after a down year in Saskatchewan. It worked for Dennis. Maybe it could work for Johnson.

Times they are a-Chungh-ging

This week we had a number of 3DownNation contributors revisit their preseason league award picks and make some new ones.

There’s no CFL award for worst free agent signing, but Micah Johnson’s move to Saskatchewan would certainly make the ballot if there were.

Another nominee would be Sukh Chungh’s departure for the B.C. Lions. Not only are the Lions 1-9, but I’m told the team has considered benching Chungh amid their struggles along the offensive line.

Wounded pairs

The Riders have benefited from injuries to a number of opposing quarterback/running back duos this year.

The list includes: Bo Levi Mitchell and Don Jackson in Week 3; Jeremiah Masoli and Sean Thomas-Erlington in Week 8; Vernon Adams Jr. and William Stanback in Week 9; and Matt Nichols and Andrew Harris in Week 12. Nichols and Harris will also miss next week’s rematch.

This isn’t a knock on Saskatchewan — you can only beat the team that’s in front of you. The Riders have taken advantage in all but one of these games, posting a 3-1 record.

Banjo Bowl

Winnipeg and Saskatchewan will meet in the Banjo Bowl next Saturday at IG Field. Saskatchewan won last year’s game 32-27 on the strength of two pick-sixes, ending a three-year Blue Bomber winning streak.

The Bombers are 8-7 in the Banjo Bowl dating back to the inaugural game in 2004, giving the Riders a chance to tie the all-time series with a victory next week.

A Roughrider victory would also secure the season series for Saskatchewan, which could be huge in a tight West Division. If Winnipeg wins next week, the season series between the clubs will be decided on October 5 at New Mosaic Stadium.

This year’s Banjo Bowl will be the first in history that does not feature Kevin Glenn, Darian Durant or Matt Nichols as one of the starting quarterbacks.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.