It was rivalry football at it’s best and worse, an emotional flare up that quickly descended into abject chaos. What started as a run of mill QB sneak touchdown from Winnipeg backup Sean McGuire became the defining moment of the 2021 Banjo Bowl, a full on brawl in the endzone that resulted in six penalties and ejection for a pair of Riders’ starters.
With the benefit of hindsight and a 24-point win under his belt, Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros had little to say about the incident that took place with him on the sideline on Saturday, but made clear his teammates simply finished what the Riders had started.
“I’m happy none of our guys got thrown out, that’s it. We try to keep it cool and sometimes the emotions of the game gets to you,” he told the media post-game. “There’s some guys on that side of the ball that were doing some dirty stuff the week before as well. When it carried over into this game, you know, things happen.”
Collaros refused to elaborate on just who among the Saskatchewan defence had drawn the ire of himself and his teammates, but those who ultimately paid the price were halfback AJ Hendy and defensive tackle Garrett Marino, who were both tossed from the game. Even those in the middle of the fray could shed little light on how the bruhaha began.
“Honestly, I was away from the play,” recalled receiver Nic Demski, a late combatant who got some attention for his role on social media. “I saw some guy on top of Sean [McGuire] put his elbow in there, so then that’s when I got involved. All of a sudden, I got rag-dolled by Micah Johnson and then all of a sudden I saw another guy go on top of Andrew [Harris].”
“I mean, I was just trying to look out for my teammates and really I was just trying to split everything up, but obviously I got myself involved in that. We’ll see what happens with that. These games, there’s a lot of emotion, a lot of intensity out there and you’ve got to sometimes put that emotion away, but that was a moment where there’s a lot of emotions in the air, for sure.”
While Demski and Harris were heroic protectors in the eyes of Bombers fans, Rider Nation had much different sentiments. Many felt Harris especially should have been among those ejected for ripping off an opponents helmet and tossing him to the ground. Instead it was only the two men in green who had to leave the stadium.
Asked if he felt his team caught a break in the chaos, Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea toed the company line.
“I’ll have to see the film. The command center has the ability to use the footage there to determine who gets [unnecessary roughness] and who gets ejected. I imagine there’s a lot of rough stuff that goes on, but from what I know from the past, ejections are the result of punching,” he said carefully.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t say our guys are squeaky clean either, but who knows?”
Still, there were some in the Winnipeg locker room who felt the brawl was an emotional turning point in the game. Never one to bite his tongue, colourful defensive end Willie Jefferson said his team expected that type of play in the rivalry game and elevated themselves afterwards.
“We brought it up a little bit. We’re home, we know it’s going to be chippy. Banjo Bowl. They lost the first game. They want to make a statement,” he said with his usual swagger.
“The other thing with us is we gonna give them what they want, but we gonna be poised. We going to be smart and we gonna play Winnipeg football. We’re not going to do none of that dumb stuff. You don’t get penalties, whatever. We just want to play tough Winnipeg football.”
As his head coach would be the first to point out, the Bombers did in fact get penalties, but came out clean despite them. He just hopes that fisticuffs don’t become a crutch for his team.
“Hopefully that’s not what we need to get going,” O’Shea said flatly. “I mean, we’ve got a tough opponent. That should be good enough.”