Liegghio lifts Blue Bombers over Roughriders in Labour Day Classic (& 11 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: CFL

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 20-18 in Sunday’s Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Bigger than football

Saskatchewan RCMP indicated shortly before kickoff that ten people were killed and another fifteen were injured in a series of stabbings that occurred three hours north of Regina in the James Smith Cree Nation and the rural village of Weldon.

The suspects remained unapprehended by police and an Interprovincial Civil Emergency was issued to the neighbouring provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. Sunday’s game was permitted to go ahead as planned with additional members of law enforcement being deployed in and around Mosaic Stadium to provide extra security.

Some things are bigger than football. The past two years have been remarkably challenging across the world due to a number of factors including the COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest, an economic downturn, and war. The last thing we needed was an unspeakable tragedy.

I’d like to extend my condolences to those affected by this senseless violence. The rivalry between the Blue Bombers and Roughriders is a lot of fun but it was hard to focus on a football game knowing what else was transpiring on the prairies. What a heartbreaking day.

Redemption

Blue Bombers’ kicker Marc Liegghio had arguably the best game of his career, making a 55-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for what would end up being the game-winning points.

Brady Oliveira was held to a four-yard carry on second-and-ten when Chris Kolankowski was called for holding. Saskatchewan could have declined the penalty and forced Liegghio to kick a 44-yard field goal but rolled the dice instead, accepting the penalty to move Winnipeg back ten yards.

Zach Collaros’ pass attempt was knocked down by Amari Henderson, setting up Liegghio with a long kick with little to no wind behind his back. After two awful late misses in a recent loss to the Montreal Alouettes, Liegghio redeemed himself by acing the longest kick of his career.

The former fifth-round pick might also have a future in politics based on his ability to sidestep problems.

The second-year kicker was under siege late in the second quarter when rookie linebacker A.J. Allen came free to block his punt. Liegghio avoided the pressure by stepping to his right before booting the ball away, hitting it pretty well considering the last-second adjustment. The ball struck the turf and rolled forwards, eventually travelling 49 yards before being recovered at Saskatchewan’s 20-yard line.

Had the punt been blocked, the Riders would have instantly been in field goal range with a 17-7 lead. Instead, Winnipeg’s defence forced a quick punt that directly led to a touchdown pass from Zach Collaros to Dalton Schoen. Talk about a critical play.

The University of Manitoba Bisons should ask Liegghio to speak with their players regarding how to avoid pressure while punting. The Bisons muffed a punt and had another blocked and returned for a touchdown in their 33-23 loss to the University of Regina Rams on Friday.

Frankly speaking

The Saskatchewan Roughriders need to incorporate Frankie Hickson into their offence more, regardless of when Jamal Morrow returns from a broken hand. The rookie running back was the team’s best offensive weapon on Sunday, recording 15 carries for 85 yards and three catches for 20 yards.

What’s bizarre is that Hickson was only given the ball five times over the final 30 minutes of the game. Offensive coordinator Jason Maas has shied away from the run at inopportune times in the past and did so again against Winnipeg.

The Riders have a young offensive line and the best way to take pressure off of that unit is to run the football consistently. Cody Fajardo didn’t see a lot of pressure early but was faced with increasing levels of duress as the game progressed.

Maas also made a poor decision when he called for a pass from Winnipeg’s 26-yard line with a little over two minutes remaining. Saskatchewan was well within field goal range and needed to kill the clock ahead of a potential game-winner from Brett Lauther.

Instead, the Riders put the ball in the air and Fajardo threw it high while facing pressure from Willie Jefferson. The pass was tipped by Hickson and picked off by Nick Hallett, who made his first career interception at an extremely opportune time.

It’s worth noting that Cody Fajardo was excellent in the first half while his team was running the ball effectively. His production fizzled out in the second half along with Hickson’s touches and the scoreboard reflected that as the Riders scored only one point in the final two quarters.

Speaking of Fajardo, the veteran quarterback has now lost five straight games against Winnipeg dating back to the 2019 West Final. He’s trending in the right direction — his performance on Sunday was one of his best games of the year — but he needs to prove he can win against his prairie rival.

Demski does it again

Nic Demski made an incredible catch early in the second quarter, scoring a 50-yard touchdown working against Derrick Moncrief. The Winnipeg native was forced to change shoulders while the ball was in flight, which is extremely tough to do. He quickly relocated it and made the catch perfectly, giving his team their first score of the game.

Dirty decision

Garrett Marino hit Zach Collaros late in the fourth quarter after the veteran quarterback had already gotten rid of the football. Mike O’Shea told CJOB 680 after the game that he hadn’t seen the hit, though the official he spoke to indicated that it wasn’t severe enough to draw a flag for unnecessary roughness.

Marino promised to play “smarter” when he returned from a recent four-game suspension but this hit doesn’t resemble the type of decision a smart player would make.

The Riders have solid depth at defensive tackle with players like Anthony Lanier II, Charbel Dabire, and DeMarcus Christmas stepping up at the position. The team doesn’t need Marino and the CFL would be better off without a player who regularly puts others at risk.

When is Saskatchewan going to show some leadership by sitting or releasing their problem child? Playing professional football is a privilege and Marino has repeatedly shown that he is undeserving of that privilege.

Homegrown talent

Sunday’s game featured 18 Canadian starters, which is the highest number of any CFL game so far this season. Winnipeg has started eight Canadians all year — one more than the minimum of seven — with Jesse Briggs coming on as the ninth Canadian starter in place of an injured Malik Clements. Saskatchewan began the season with seven Canadian starters but recently added two more homegrown players at slotback and right tackle.

Edmonton and Calgary are expected to tie this mark when they play on Monday as the Elks will start ten Canadians and the Stampeders will start eight.

Bench bunk

It takes a pretty foolish player to draw a penalty in a game for which they haven’t even dressed but that’s exactly what Duke Williams did early in the fourth quarter. Kyran Moore ran into Saskatchewan’s bench accompanied by a Winnipeg defender and Williams approached the opponent, creating a skirmish and drawing an objectionable conduct penalty.

I was critical of Williams on the most recent episode of the 3DownNation Podcast and I stand by my comments. He has done little to help Saskatchewan’s offence this season and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the unit suddenly came alive in his absence against arguably the best defence in the league.

Daniella Ponticelli reported after the game that Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said undressed players will no longer be permitted on the sidelines moving forward. That sounds like a good first step but the Riders still need to do more to get the most out of Williams.

Retro redemption

I say this every year on Labour Day and will continue to do so until a change is made: the Saskatchewan Roughriders should permanently switch to their retro uniforms. They’re clean, sharp, and an upgrade over the team’s modern jerseys. Alternate uniforms have a time and place, but the Riders should primarily wear their vintage duds. They’re awesome.

C’mon, man

I was out running errands on Sunday around lunchtime and noticed a ton of people wearing Blue Bombers gear in celebration of Sunday’s game. I also noticed a pedestrian on my drive home wearing what appeared to be a Saskatchewan Roughriders jersey, though I was confused by the name and number on the back: Adams, 33.

Adams? The only player I could think of with that name is Keion Adams, a second-year defensive end currently on Saskatchewan’s practice roster. It seemed unlikely that even the most diehard Roughriders fan would own a Keion Adams jersey, plus the No. 33 isn’t exactly common for defensive linemen to wear.

Then I realized: this man was wearing a New York Jets jersey with the name and number of Jamal Adams, a defensive back the team traded to the Seattle Seahawks in July 2020. C’mon, man — it’s time to go get a real Roughriders jersey. There are a ton of great players to choose from: George Reed, Weston Dressler, Ron Lancaster, Bobby Jurasin, Ray Elgaard, Roger Aldag, Charleston Hughes. Take your pick.

‘Labour Day’ Classic

Every year when Winnipeg and Saskatchewan play the day before Labour Day, there’s always some smart aleck who says, ‘How can this be called the Labour Day Classic if it’s not Labour Day!?’ If you’re one of these people, I hope you don’t celebrate Christmas on Boxing Day — otherwise, you’d be a hypocrite.

You’re also not allowed to wait until the weekend to celebrate your birthday. If your birthday falls on a Tuesday, that’s too bad — no waiting until Saturday. You’ve gotta party on Tuesday or wait until next year. Enjoy your Wednesday hangover.

So long, Sara

The Riders recognized longtime sideline reporter Sara Orlesky ahead of her upcoming departure from TSN by showing her on the video screen at Mosaic Stadium. The crew also presented her with a cake featuring an image of her interviewing former Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller.

Orlesky will soon start her new job with the Winnipeg Jets with next week’s Banjo Bowl being her last game with TSN. I’m sure the Blue Bombers will have something planned to honour her long tenure on the sideline as she covers her final game in her hometown.

Up next

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-1) will host the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-6) next week in the 18th annual Banjo Bowl. Last year’s rivalry game featured an overwhelmingly blue-clad crowd as relatively few fans made the trip from Saskatchewan due to the pandemic. Now that COVID concerns have largely subsided, it’ll be interesting to see how much green is in the crowd.

The Blue Bombers have a 10-7 record all-time in the Banjo Bowl and have won five of the last six contests. Now 7-0 on the road, Winnipeg has a chance to improve upon a 4-1 home record and put more distance between themselves and the second-place B.C. Lions (8-2) and third-place Calgary Stampeders (6-4).

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