CFL: Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat Winnipeg Blue Bombers in wild Banjo Bowl

WINNIPEG – The Saskatchewan Roughriders continued to ride high with their fourth straight victory as they claimed the Banjo Bowl Trophy in a 32-27 win against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.

Saskatchewan won their first Banjo Bowl trophy since 2014 in a defensive showcase that saw the team record an incredible five interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes that went longer than 95 yards.

Defence was the story in this one, with both team’s combing for a fumble recovery and six interceptions, including three defensive scores. Three more interceptions were negated by penalties. Willie Jefferson and Samuel Eguavoecame through with the big pick-six plays for the Riders, while defensive back Anthony Gaitor recorded one of his own for the Bombers.

Riders defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy also added a pair of key interceptions, and kicker Brett Lauther was perfect on the day with six field goals for Saskatchewan.

Quarterback Brandon Bridge came in for the Riders after starter Zach Collaros exited with an injury in the fourth quarter, and Chris Streveler replaced Matt Nichols at quarterback for the Bombers in the second half, completing 10 of 20 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.

Running back Tre Mason led the way for the Riders on offence with 117 rushing yards on 20 carries.

The Bombers opened the scoring on their opening drive after solid plays from Kenbrell Thompkins and Nic Demski set up a 29-yard field goal from Justin Medlock. Thompkins used his speed and quickness to gain 20 yards after the catch before Demski put Medlock in position with a tough 18-yard run.

Winnipeg’s offence was dealt a tough blow on their next drive when Thompkins was forced to leave with an injury after battling for a pass against defensive back Ed Gainey. The 30-year-old receiver gave the cheering home crowd a thumbs up as he was taken off the field on a stretcher. Thompkins later returned to the sideline but remained out of the game.

The Bombers got a huge momentum boost later in the opening quarter when defensive back Anthony Gaitor came up with a huge turnover. Gaitor jumped the route beautifully to pick off the Collaros pass before bringing it all the way back for a 55-yard pick-six, helping give Winnipeg the early 10-0 lead. The interception was Gaitor’s second of the season, and the Bombers’ defence held strong to keep the Riders off the scoreboard entirely in the first quarter.

Saskatchewan’s defensive unit came up with a big play of their own near the start of the second quarter when defensive end Willie Jefferson corralled a short pass intended for Andrew Harris and took it to the house for an incredible 97-yard touchdown. The play was Jefferson’s second career interception. Medlock knocked the extra point through to make it a 10-7 game.

Momentum appeared to grow for the Riders after Gainey picked off a Nichols pass on the next drive, but the play was called back due to a roughing the passer penalty.

Nichols and the Winnipeg offence were set up with great field position later in the second quarter after Saskatchewan chose to punt from their own end zone. Demski put the team in scoring position with a 20-yard punt return before setting up a first-and-goal a couple plays later with an eight-yard run. Streveler finished off the solid drive with a quarterback sneak touchdown to help the Bombers grab a 10-point lead.

The Riders began to get things going on offence near the end of the opening half, with Collaros connecting with emerging playmaker Jordan Williams-Lambert for a 24-yard gain in the redzone. However, the Bombers’ defence continued to stand strong as they forced the Riders to settle for a 17-yard field goal, bringing Saskatchewan within a touchdown score.

Saskatchewan had another big play on defence before the half when defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy reeled in a tipped pass from Nichols. The interception allowed Lauther to come in and kick a 37-yard field goal and make it a four-point game.

The Riders intercepted yet another pass in the final minutes of the half when Nichols attempted to throw the ball away while being hit, only to have the ball end up in the hands of linebacker Samuel Eguavoen who took it 103 yards for the go-ahead score. Lauther kicked the extra point to give Saskatchewan a 20-17 lead heading into halftime.

Saskatchewan got the ball to start the second half and drove down the field for a 38-yard field goal, extending their lead to six points. Williams-Lambert set up the field goal with a 19-yard catch and run.

Streveler took over under centre for the Bombers’ offence in the second half, but Purifoy recorded his second interception of the game when the young quarterback’s pass was tipped after being thrown into tight coverage. The Riders capitalized on the turnover by extending their lead once again with a 23-yard field goal, putting the team up 26-17 near the end of the third quarter.

The Bombers added another turnover of their own in the fourth quarter when defensive back Jeff Hecht applied pressure off the edge and stripped the ball from Collaros. Linebacker Adam Bighill scooped up the fumble and took it 15 yards to set up Streveler and the Bombers’ offence. Collaros left the game with an injury after the play, and Brandon Bridge came in to run the offence for the Riders.

Gainey was also forced to leave with an injury after making a tackle on receiver Drew Wolitarsky a few plays later.

Winnipeg’s offence made the most of the Bighill fumble recovery and marched down the field for a 6-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Streveler found receiver Daniel Petermann for a nine-yard touchdown to bring cut the Riders’ lead down to two points. The touchdown catch was the first of Petermann’s CFL career.

A big 40-yard catch by Darvin Adams on the next drive set the Bombers up for a 21-yard field goal from Medlock that gave the team a 27-26 lead, their first since the second quarter.

But the lead was short lived as a couple of big passes from Bridge set up a 19-yard field goal from Lauther, putting Saskatchewan up 29-27 near the end of the fourth quarter. A final Riders interception from safety Mike Edem and a 45-yard field goal from Lauther sealed the Banjo Bowl victory for Saskatchewan.

The Riders will look to make it five straight victories when they host the Ottawa REDBLACKS next Saturday in Week 14, while the Bombers will be off for a week before hosting the Montreal Alouettes in Week 15.

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