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WINNIPEG — Two heated rivals are set to go right back on it on Sunday afternoon, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers wrap up a home-and-home at Investors Group Field in the Banjo Bowl.
For the second straight week you can forget about where these teams sit in the standings, as the Bombers are focused on securing a win at a sold-out Investors Group Field – and of course, what better time to do it than against detested rival and league-leading Saskatchewan?
As Riders head coach Corey Chamblin pointed out to his team ahead of Sunday’s contest, the Roughriders aren’t coming into this hotly-contested meeting as a first-place football team. They’re well aware that the energy in Winnipeg will be high, and the focus like every week for the Riders must be on getting to 1-0.
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“It’s back to zero,” the second-year head coach told Riderville.com. “We’re playing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and they’re a new team again.”
“They’re making additions to their roster and we made some changes also, we’re playing at a new venue,” he continued. “I wish momentum was something that you could carry over, then we’d carry it over, but it’s a whole new game.”
The Bombers made a statement on Labour Day weekend, jumping out to an 18-14 lead at halftime and making Rider fans nervous until the fourth quarter, when quarterback Darian Durant fired four touchdown passes to lead the Riders to an important win.
But for the first 45 minutes the Bombers, led by Justin Goltz, looked like they belonged on the same field with the league’s most dominant team through the first half of the season. This weekend they’ll look to take it a step further, as they once again turn to Goltz back at home while awaiting the return of Max Hall from injury.
“I think he’s made some progress,” Head Coach Tim Burke told BlueBombers.com of this week’s starting quarterback. “He has overcome some of the mistakes he made in the BC game.”
More playing time has most definitely played a role in Goltz’s development, but Burke added that the recent hiring of Marcel Bellefeuille as the team’s offensive coordinator also paid dividends.
“Like I said before, his reads are easier and they occur earlier in the play so Justin has a chance to get his feet set earlier than he did before,” added Burke. “So I think that’s one area where he’s gotten better, obviously he can make plays with his feet and that’s always a positive in the CFL so we’ve decided to go with him another week.”
The 26-year-old again showed ups and downs in what eventually turned out to be a 48-25 loss, leading the Bombers to a 16-point second quarter and keeping his team in the game until midway through the fourth, when he threw the first of two costly interceptions.
The Bombers trailed Saskatchewan by just six points when Goltz was picked off by Dwight Anderson, leading to a flurry of three straight touchdowns from Durant and the Green and White.
“In the fourth quarter we started strong, and like I said after the game I made two critical mistakes that put my team at a disadvantage and I’m not backing down from that,” said Goltz on his fourth-quarter mistakes. “They’re coaching points that I can draw from to improve as a player.”
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Aside from a turbulent fourth quarter though, Goltz showed signs of being an effective starting quarterback in the CFL. That held particularly true with his ability to make plays with his legs, with two of his team’s touchdowns on the afternoon coming on scrambles of 46 and six yards.
In the process though he may have advertently even added more fuel to the fire in a rivalry that didn’t exactly need it, when he mocked Roughriders running back Kory Sheets on his touchdown celebration – something Durant and the Riders have taken exception to.
“I don’t want to get into that really, but at the same time I don’t think you should mock a guy’s celebration,” Durant said in practice this week. “He has his own, and when you have your own, that’s what you should do when you score.”
“When you come out and you mock a guy’s celebration and you don’t win the game, then I think you’re going to take a lot of heat,” he continued. “He’s always done the tie thing, I actually like that celebration, but when he added the Sheets part to it I don’t think that’s something you should do, especially when they’re where they are.”
Even before that, Durant had plenty of reason to be motivated coming into Sunday’s rematch. The 31-year-old explained this week why he’s public enemy number one in Winnipeg when it comes to this rivalry, after shooting his mouth at the fans a few years ago.
Added to the fact that this year’s crowd at a brand new stadium may be the loudest yet, and this is a game that Durant and the Riders don’t want to lose.
“I don’t know,” answered Durant when asked why he’s hated by Bomber fans. “I think I was mouthing off a couple of years ago, some guys in the bleachers they said some personal comments and I didn’t really like that, and I just went there.”
“But I love it, we’ve had their number lately and that’s what matters more than anything, us winning the game.”
If the Riders continue to play like they have of late, they should have no issue doing just that. Their record atop the CFL standings is justified by the play of one of the league’s most opportunistic defences, as well as an offence full of explosive weapons that are capable of going off on any given play.
|The last time they met|
Saskatchewan 48, Winnipeg 25
Kory Sheets, Taj Smith and Geroy Simon all had a pair of touchdowns as the Saskatchewan Roughriders handled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 48-25 Sunday afternoon in front of a sold out crowd of 44,910 at Mosaic Stadium.
While Sheets continues to dominate in the run game with 1,149 yards at the season’s halfway point, Durant may still be the leading candidate for Most Outstanding Player when the award is handed out in late November.
He may have thrown his very first interception of the season against the Bombers last weekend, but that’s about all Durant has done wrong this season, as the veteran has thrown 21 touchdowns to just one interception.
He currently sits second in the league with a quarterback rating of 125.3, and will now look to build on earning Offensive Player of the Month for the month of August – something Durant said gives him even more confidence moving forward.
“It means a lot to be honest with you, to be playing as consistent as I have been,” said Durant. “I’ve been labeled an inconsistent player so it’s just big to be able to develop that consistency.”
Durant added that it’s all about the team philosophy, as he’s relied on his teammates to find success and on top of that, he’s focused on being the best teammate possible rather than gunning for individual achievements.
“I have to really give my teammates a lot of credit, the coaching staff, everything has been falling into place so it definitely means a lot and we just want to keep it going,” he continued. “I think that’s what it is, it’s about helping the team out.”
“It’s not about individual accolades or being selfish and throwing the ball up for grabs and different things like that, it’s about taking the next step to being a great quarterback. When you study the greats and look at them, the thing they don’t do is turn the ball over a lot. I definitely take that into account and try to implement that into my game, and so far so good.”
One thing Durant and the Riders have struggled with however is getting off to fast starts, as they’ve stumbled out of the gate in virtually every game this season. The key to getting off to a quick start on Sunday, Durant explained, will be rising to Winnipeg’s energy level.
“Being in front of your home crowd, being in the situation they’re in and you add onto it being in the Banjo Bowl, I think those guys are going to come out with a lot of energy,” said Durant. “I think we have to match their intensity, we’ve been starting slow lately, so we have to make sure we’re ready to go from the jump.”
Sunday’s meeting between these cross-division rivals marks the 10th annual edition of the Banjo Bowl, and the ninth straight time it’s sold out. The Riders have won the last two years, including last year’s thrilling 25-24 come from behind win in the final minute of the game.
Kickoff is at 4:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from BlueBombers.com/Riderville.com