Blue Bombers blast Riders in Banjo Bowl blowout (& eight other thoughts)

Photo: Neil Noonan/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers blasted the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 51-6 in the annual Banjo Bowl in front of a sold-out crowd of 32,343 at IG Field on Saturday. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Blue beatdown

Winnipeg’s performance in the first half was as dominant as any in recent CFL history, as the team scored touchdowns on each of their first six possessions to build a 42-6 halftime lead. As per CFL head statistician Steve Daniel, it marked the first time a team scored a major on each of their opening six possessions since he started tracking the statistic in 2007.

Zach Collaros completed 16-of-17 pass attempts for 285 yards and five touchdowns, while Dakota Prukop ran one in on short yardage. Dalton Schoen caught three touchdown passes, while Kenny Lawler and Brady Oliveira accounted for the other two. Collaros finished the game with 319 yards through the air as the team played more conservatively on offence in the second half before turning over the controls to Dru Brown.

To a man, Winnipeg’s players denied that this game was about avenging last week’s loss in the Labour Day Classic. Instead, it was simply about getting back to winning football.

“I think it’s just what you’re supposed to do for the Banjo Bowl, I think we’re supposed to win that game. Our fans were unbelievable, the atmosphere was second to none,” said Collaros postgame. “I was a little groggy this morning, but as soon as I stepped out there for warm-ups, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, there goes the adrenaline,’ so it was pretty unbelievable the whole time.”

Collaros indicated that he channelled his anger from last week into his preparation for the Banjo Bowl, which clearly paid off in spades.

“We never really say ‘revenge.’ Yeah, we like to get our licks back but at the end of the day, we’ve got to stay focused, not really be too much concerned with revenge, but more so just handling just the job at hand,” said Kenny Lawler. “There was frustration and emotion in the air and the energy was great all week, so it just feels good to come in and get a dominant win.”

On this week’s episode of the 3DownNation Podcast, I suggested this was a great opportunity to not only bet on Winnipeg but explore alternative spreads as they were bound for a big win. Admittedly, my picks against the spread have been pretty mediocre this year, but I felt confident about my prediction for Saturday.

The Blue Bombers weren’t going to make any mistakes after how they lost the Labour Day Classic and they didn’t, dominating in all three phases of the game. Their intensity carried over into the second half as Willie Jefferson stoned Kian Schaffer-Baker in the backfield, Jeffcoat strip-sacked Jake Dolegala and recovered the fumble for one of two takeaways, and Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine ripped off long runs.

“It’s just the next game,” said Jackson Jeffcoat, who got his first sack after a four-game drought. “We’re playing at home with our fans and we’ve got to give them a show, so that’s really what it is. We wanted to make sure that we played our best game because we know we didn’t play it last week. It’s more about us, not about them.”

The only lapse came when Kenny Lawler dropped a would-be 32-yard touchdown catch along the east sideline in the third quarter, though he claimed he couldn’t see the ball because the defensive back pulled his facemask. My only other criticism of the Blue Bombers would be that they kept Zach Collaros in the game for a little too long. Aside from that, it was essentially a perfect game.

“It’s as clean a game as you would hope for,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “Listening to the headset, in every game there’s (feedback from assistant coaches saying) ‘wrong depth’ or ‘missed a block’ or ‘missed a tackle’ or ‘we didn’t get out to our zones.’ There’s always corrections going on in the headset. This time the headset was really quiet throughout the entire game, an indicator that the guys are executing at a very high level.”

Winnipeg has now followed each of their losses this season by a win of at least 14 points. It’s impossible to play perfect football over the course of an 18-game regular season but it’s clear that this team responds well to losses.

1k Brady

Brady Oliveira ran for 154 yards on Saturday, which is the best single-game rushing performance by any player in the CFL this season. He also eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive year and reached 1,144 rushing yards on the season, setting a new career high.

The Winnipeg native is in a great position to win the league’s rushing title as he leads Toronto running back A.J. Ouellette by over 300 yards. The Argonauts have two games in hand on Winnipeg, though it seems reasonable to question how much work Ouellette will get down the stretch. With the East Division essentially wrapped up after Saturday’s blowout win over the Montreal Alouettes, it would make sense for Toronto to put Ouellette on a pitch count for the rest of the season to ensure he’s fresh for the playoffs.

Oliveira now has 1,512 yards from scrimmage on the season and appears to only be getting better with each passing week. The pending free agent appears headed for two things at the end of the season: the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian award and a massive new contract.

Maligned moniker

The Riders have stopped using the name “Banjo Bowl” for the annual Labour Day rematch between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, presumably because they don’t like how it originated. The moniker was derived from a comment Troy Westwood, who was born in Dauphin, Man. and whose mother’s family hails from Saskatchewan, made in 2003 when he called the people of Regina “a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds.”

I wouldn’t expect Winnipeg to stop using the name anytime soon as it’s become easily the most anticipated home game of the season. Even non-football fans in the city know what the Banjo Bowl is and why it’s such a special weekend.

Recent editions of the rivalry game can also be identified by unique puns derived from notable things that occurred each year. A fight broke out during the contest in 2021, which has since been dubbed the Banjo Brawl. Saskatchewan’s roster suffered through a miserable stomach flu in 2022, a game that’s since been referred to as the Banjo Bowel.

The nickname for this year’s game seems pretty obvious: the Banjo Blowout.

Winnipeg now has a 12-7 record in the Banjo Bowl dating back to its inception in 2004 and has won four straight for the first time ever.

By my estimation, there was more green in the crowd at IG Field this year than in 2022, though it remained under pre-pandemic levels. The game sold out in July, so those looking to buy tickets to next year’s game would be wise to do so even earlier in 2024.

Saturday’s game was also easily the loudest of the year, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The fans in Winnipeg are always loud but the Banjo Bowl takes things to another level. My ears might still be ringing on Monday.

“Driving in today — and I came earlier probably than I usually do, so I was at least four hours early — and it was full throttle all the way in on Bison (Drive),” said O’Shea. “You pass by some guy and his trailer and they’re barbecuing and there’s this guy who’s in his sixties and he’s got full equipment on and he’s just holding court. I couldn’t help but laugh and just feel so proud to be a part of that. It was pretty cool driving in today.”

Ticket punched

Saturday’s win clinched a playoff spot for the Blue Bombers, who are headed back to the postseason for a seventh straight year. This marks Winnipeg’s longest playoff streak since a 17-year run from 1980 to 1996.

Toronto qualified for the postseason with their 39-10 victory over Montreal on Saturday and it seems impossible to imagine any other team representing the East Division in this year’s Grey Cup. Winnipeg is the clear frontrunner in the West Division, though they still have lots of work to do if they’re going to host the West Final for a third straight year.

The suspension

My column from last week’s Labour Day Classic ruffled some feathers in Riderville regarding the way in which I classified the crowd’s response to Garrett Marino’s dirty hit on Jeremiah Masoli last year. The comment was made regarding Pete Robertson’s headbutt on Zach Collaros, which initially went unpenalized but ultimately drew a 15-yard penalty and a one-game suspension.

For starters, kudos to Robertson for accepting the suspension and apologizing for his actions. He recognized that it was a mistake and Collaros, who was visibly furious after the game last weekend, seemed to have put the incident behind him by the time Winnipeg returned to practice this week.

As for my comment on Saskatchewan’s crowd, the game from last year is currently available on YouTube with the hit taking place near the 1:51:00 mark. Masoli’s initial injury was met with no discernable response from the crowd, though booing erupted following Andre Proulx’s announcement of Marino’s ejection.

The crowd cheered as Masoli was carried off the field by his teammates and there was a mixture of boos and cheers as Marino blew kisses to the crowd while being escorted from the game.

Some considered my assertion that “fans in Saskatchewan cheered Garrett Marino off the field” as an indictment of the entire crowd, though this wasn’t my intention. If I believed the entire crowd had cheered for Marino, I would have specified that. There were almost 27,000 fans in the building and it would be ridiculous to suggest that every person reacted the same way.

As for my assertion that “the dangerous combination of passion, adrenaline, and alcohol can make fans cheer for stupid behaviour,” this seems pretty self-evident. It’s not exclusive to fans in Regina or the CFL, nor did I claim it was. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that transcends sport. If it weren’t for the combination of passion, adrenaline, and alcohol, emergency rooms would never be full and most divorce lawyers would be out of work.

I also clarified that a replay of Robertson’s headbutt wasn’t shown on the video screens at Mosaic Stadium. Consider this a reminder that professional sports teams make a concerted effort to manipulate fans the entire time they’re at a game. This also isn’t exclusive to Saskatchewan. It’s true in every CFL city and every league across professional sports.

Teams want fans to cheer louder. Then buy more beer. How about some popcorn? Don’t forget the souvenir cup. Boo the other team! Then keep cheering. Louder! Support the sponsors. Follow the team on Facebook. And buy tickets to the next game! The team needs every fan to be there because they’re part of the team!

Someone in the annals of Mosaic Stadium clearly saw the replay of Pete Robertson’s headbutt and intentionally prevented the crowd from seeing it. It’s probably safe to assume that not showing “negative” plays by the home team is company policy, which is likely the case in every other CFL city, too.

I stand by what I wrote, especially given the extent to which many fans in Regina continued to support Marino even after he served his four-game suspension. I’ll concede, however, that it’s difficult to say exactly how many fans were cheering for Marino as he and Masoli exited the game in relatively quick succession and I should have done a better job of illustrating that.

Moore than meets the eye

Every now and again, a fellow reporter comes up with something you wish you’d written yourself. Kudos to 680 CJOB sports director Kelly Moore for doing exactly that on Saturday, tweeting the line of the day: “Canada will not be happy with what is happening to their team in the first half of Banjo Bowl.”

The Riders have a lot to be proud of, including an excellent brand, loyal fans, and a beautiful stadium. However, referring to them as “Canada’s team” is a little silly. They’re clearly Saskatchewan’s team, which should be enough. The rest of the country can pick a team for themselves.

Fur coat

Free agent quarterback Chris Streveler, who reportedly isn’t entertaining CFL contract offers as he hopes to land another NFL opportunity, signed autographs before the Banjo Bowl on a special visit to Winnipeg. For a player who was only in the city for two years, he left an indelible mark in Bomberland. Local fans still adore him, as evidenced by the huge line to get his signature.

Our metrics at 3DownNation indicate that Streveler’s popularity isn’t limited to Manitoba but stretches from coast to coast. Anything we post about him on our website or one of our social media channels far outperforms what could otherwise be expected. Best of luck to him as he continues to pursue his NFL dream, but a return to the CFL in 2024 could provide a huge boost on and off the field for whichever team is able to secure his services.

Giving thanks

There are only two days each year on which I eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon: Thanksgiving and Banjo Bowl. They’re both fun days spent with good people who help make this the best time of the year. I’ve been at all 19 editions of the Banjo Bowl and I hope to be at the next 19 and beyond.

Next up

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-3) will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5-7) at Tim Hortons Field next week for their second and final meeting of the season. The clubs met all the way back in Week 1 as the Blue Bombers won at IG Field by a score of 42-31 despite holding a 28-point lead early in the second half.

Hamilton looks much different than it did in June as Scott Milanovich recently replaced Tommy Condell as offensive coordinator, Duke Williams is on the six-game injured list, and Taylor Powell has been under centre for the past six weeks with Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz out due to injury.

Head coach Orlondo Steinauer declined to provide an update on the health of his veteran quarterbacks this past week, so it remains unclear if either or both will be available for next week’s game.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.