Winnipeg Blue Bombers surge past Saskatchewan Roughriders in Western Semifinal

REGINA — Drew Wolitarsky and Andrew Harris each scored a touchdown and Kevin Fogg had a key interception, leading the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 23-18 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Semi-Final on Sunday in Regina.

The Bombers got the best of their heated rival in front of a hostile crowd at new Mosaic Stadium, scoring 13 unanswered points in the second frame and never relinquishing the lead, putting the game out of reach with a fourth-quarter touchdown by Harris.

Bombers pivot Matt Nichols threw for 169 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the win, while the sophomore Wolitarsky had a team-high five catches for 68 yards to lead the Bombers to victory.

Mississauga, Ont. native and Riders pivot Brandon Bridge became the first Canadian quarterback to start a playoff game since Gerry Dittilio, finishing 12-of-22 for 100 yards and an interception in defeat, however he exited the game with :08 remaining after being hit by Jackson Jeffcoat.

The Riders’ regular starter Zach Collaros was scratched after taking limited practice reps throughout the week.

Fogg had the game’s lone turnover, an interception in the second quarter that flipped the field and broke a first-half stalemate in the Bombers’ favour.

After failing to find much of a lane in the first half with just 27 yards, Harris finished with 153 yards on 19 carries in a dominant second-half performance.

The Bombers will travel to Calgary to take on the Stampeders in the Western Final on Nov. 18.

With a raucous crowd at their back in the first game at the new stadium, the Riders came out with momentum. Bridge completed his first pass to Naaman Roosevelt for a first down, then got the edge on a second down scramble and took off for a 32-yard run into Bomber territory. Lauther’s 32-yard field goal put the Riders in front 3-0 on a successful opening drive.

After a quick two-and-out by the Riders’ defence, including a sack by a blitzing Mike Edem on second down, a pass interference penalty on Chris Randle set up Lauther’s second field goal of the game, a short 16-yard chip shot to make it 6-0 midway through the opening quarter.

The Bombers needed to pick up the pace offensively and did on their second drive of the game, starting with a critical second-down hookup between Nichols and Dressler to move the sticks. Completions to Darvin Adams and Wolitarsky moved the offence into field goal range, setting up the Bombers’ first points with a 37-yard field goal by Justin Medlock.

Two of the CFL’s stingiest defences began to settle in after that, as a field position battle ensued well into the second quarter.

Medlock’s second field goal of the game, this one from 36, knotted the game at six points apiece with 8:40 remaining in the opening half.

After digging out of a small hole, the Bombers had the momentum and would continue to build. A promising drive by Bridge and the Riders ended suddenly deep in Winnipeg territory when Bridge’s errant pass was picked off bKevin Fogg and returned to the Saskatchewan 42, marking the game’s first turnover and biggest sudden swing.

A couple of plays later the Bombers finished the drive as Wolitarsky got by Edem while Nichols made no mistake, connecting for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Bombers their first lead of the game, 13-6.

The Riders answered with a big play from their special teams when Loucheiz Purifoy returned Medlock’s kick 54 yards into Bomber territory. A 19-yard run by Bridge set up a 34-yard field goal from Lauther, his third of the game, to make it 13-9.

The Bombers threatened again as the half melted away, but a 15-yard penalty against Patrick Neufeld proved to be costly, forcing an eventual 54-yard field goal attempt from Medlock. The Bombers’ usually-steady kicker missed to the left, sending the game to halftime with a four-point Winnipeg edge.

With the Bombers nursing a four-point lead, it was a Chris Jones challenge flag that gave the Riders some life with 6:00 left in the third quarter. Bridge’s pass on second-and-nine fell incomplete, but Jones challenged for pass interference on Roosevelt and won, resulting in a first down at midfield.

A pair of first-down scampers by Bridge moved the Riders into scoring possession, but a loss on first down and a false start penalty foiled their most promising drive, resulting in a 27-yard field goal from Lauther, his fourth of the game to cut the deficit to 13-12 entering the fourth quarter.

It was anyone’s game heading into the final frame on a cold but calm night in Regina, with the Bombers holding an edge of 238 net yards to 194, and just one turnover between them.

The Bombers forced a stop after Bridge’s deep ball on second-and-short fell incomplete. A long drive ensued thanks to some hard inside running by Harris, who threatened the century mark midway through the fourth, eventually setting up a 30-yard Medlock field goal to restore a four-point lead.

Jeffcoat sacked Bridge on second down on the next drive — Jackson’s second sack of the game and his team’s third — forcing the Riders to punt from their own 10 with barely six minutes remaining.

From there it was Harris time, with the Bombers’ Most Outstanding Canadian finding the edge for a 37-yard run to the Saskatchewan 16. After carrying the pile for 14 more down to the Saskatchewan two, Harris finished the drive with his first touchdown of the game, capping a short three-play, 53-yard scoring drive.

The play was reviewed after Harris appeared to fumble, but it was revealed that he recovered the fumble in the end zone, putting the Bombers ahead 23-12 with 4:30 remaining.

The Riders weren’t ready to fade into the night, responding with another big return from Purifoy, this one 47 yards into Bombers territory. Bridge scrambled and completed a pass to Roosevelt to move a stick, then Sayles’ second pass interference penalty extended the drive with a first down at the Winnipeg 22.

Bridge took a shot for the end zone to Kyran Moore and while it fell incomplete, Moore was bumped on his way to the ball, drawing another interference penalty. On first and goal from the one, short-yardage specialist Nick Marshall sprinted around the end and beat the defender to the pylon. Roosevelt couldn’t hang on to the two-point conversion attempt, but the Riders pulled to within five points with 2:36 remaining.

With the ball back in their hands with 40 seconds left, it was too little too late. David Watford‘s last-gasp pass was intercepted, sending the Bombers to the Western Final on the strength of a 23-18 win.

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