Winnipeg Blue Bombers gain revenge in Banjo Bowl win over Saskatchewan Roughriders

WINNIPEG — Clarence Denmark and Maurice Leggett each scored twice, leading the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 48-28 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Banjo Bowl.

Saturday’s rematch of the Labour Day Classic included plenty of highlight-reel moments, from a stray moose before the game to Leggett finding the end zone on defense and special teams, as a boisterous crowd of 33,134 took in a pronounced Bombers victory at Investors Group Field.

Matt Nichols threw three touchdown passes for the Bombers, while Saskatchewan quarterback Kevin Glenn left the game in the third quarter with an apparent injury to his throwing hand and did not return.

The victory marked the Bombers’ sixth in their last seven games, also ending a three-game run of victories for the Riders. It also secured the season series for the Blue and Gold, who take sole possession of second in the West.

The latest chapter in Banjo Bowl lore started before kickoff, when a moose on the loose resulted in a police blockade on Chancellor Matheson Road outside the stadium. But while that led to some late fans at the game, the Bombers were more than ready to go at the starting whistle.

Winnipeg LB Jovan Santos-Knox celebrating 1st half interception Photo: Jason Halstead

An interception on the Riders’ first drive by Jovan Santos-Knox — the replacement for injured WILL linebacker Kyle Knox — led to a missed field goal by Justin Medlock. But the Bombers got the ball back and quickly found redemption, with Kevin Fogg‘s 29-yard punt return setting up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Nichols to Denmark, making it 7-0 Bombers.

After the turnover and a pair of two-and-outs, the Riders responded suddenly. With time winding down on the first 15 minutes, Glenn held in the pocket and took a hard hit, but not before finding Duron Carter for an 88-yard touchdown to tie the game at a touchdown apiece.

A relatively subdued first quarter for two of the CFL’s three highest-scoring teams ended at that, with plenty more action to come.

It started quickly, when Josh Bartel‘s misplaced punt was picked up by Leggett and taken back for a franchise record 97-yard punt return touchdown.

Just as quickly, lightning struck again for the Rider offence. Glenn’s pass over the middle was caught by Roosevelt, and the Riders’ leading receiver evaded two defenders on his way to a 75-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed but the visitors quickly cut their deficit to 15-13 midway through the second.

Saskatchewan QB Kevin Glenn left game in 3rd quarter. Photo: Jason Halstead

The rabid IGF crowd could only be hushed for so long.

Trying to catch the Bombers sleeping, Riders coach Chris Jones opted to try the onside kick, but to no avail. The Bombers recovered at the Saskatchewan 47 and made quick work of the short field, needing only three plays to get back in the end zone as Denmark’s second touchdown grab of the afternoon extended the Bombers’ lead to nine.

The see-saw battle ceased to slow from there. First down runs by Glenn and Greg Morris kept the sticks moving in the Riders’ favour, while Glenn completed four of five passes on the drive, eventually setting up Kienan LaFrance’s first touchdown as a Rider.

The Winnipeg native, subbing in for the injured Cameron Marshall, capped off an eight-play, 85-yard drive for the Riders, making it a 22-20 game.

However, the two-point edge would not suffice for the Bombers going into halftime. With just over a minute left in the opening 30 minutes, Nichols went back to work, completing passes to Denmark and Darvin Adams before getting help from a pass interference penalty in the end zone, setting up a one-yard sneak by Dan LeFevour just before the half.

After relative calm throughout most of the third, the crowd at Investors Group Field erupted midway through the quarter on one of the game’s biggest plays. Leggett, already with a touchdown in the stat column on special teams, beat Caleb Holley to the football and picked off Glenn, returning it 54 yards to the end zone, extending the Bombers’ lead to 38-20.

Late in the third, an injury scare for Kevin Glenn — Glenn left the game with an injury to his throwing hand — led to a quarterback change. Into the game came Brandon Bridge, who calmly picked up the offense at the 35 and, with a hurdle on the way, ran for a 10-yard touchdown to cut the Riders’ deficit to 10.

Winnipeg WR Weston Dressler Photo: Jason Halstead

However, all throughout Sunday’s contest, every time the Riders got close, Nichols and the Winnipeg offense responded. That was again the case early in the fourth, when Nichols completed four consecutive passes, including his third touchdown of the game — this one to Ryan Lankford — to restore the Bombers’ lead to three possessions.

With 7:00 remaining, the Riders kept their hopes of a Banjo Bowl comeback alive by forcing Medlock to kick the game’s first field goal, a 37-yarder to keep it a three-score game. But the Riders’ offense, with Glenn on the sideline, couldn’t muster any more fight.

Glenn finished with 327 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions before exiting with the injury in the third quarter. While he was spotted on the sideline with his helmet on, there’s been no word on his availability for next week.

In Glenn’s place, Bridge completed four of eight passes for 67 yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception.

Roosevelt led the Riders and the game with 102 yards on four catches. Carter had 96 yards on two catches, including his 88-yard touchdown, but did not record a catch in the second half.

The Bombers were led by Denmark, who hauled in five passes for 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Darvin Adams (62 yards), Weston Dressler (56 yards), and Julian Feoli Gudino (46 yards) all eclipsed the 45-yard mark for the Bombers’ receivers.

The Bombers head into the bye playing some of their best football, with their ninth game of 30 or more points and their fourth over the 40-point plateau. After a week off, the Bombers take on the Eskimos on Saturday, Sept. 30 at Commonwealth Stadium.

For the Riders, their pursuit of the West Division’s elite teams will have to wait. The loss keeps the Riders in the division basement heading into their visit to the Hammer in Week 13 — Saskatchewan and Hamilton clash on Sept. 15 at Tim Hortons Field.

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