REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders mounted an impressive game-winning drive, capped off by an Anthony Allen touchdown to top the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-30 at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday afternoon as Mark’s Labour Day Weekend continues in the CFL.
Allen’s touchdown with 28 seconds remaining finished a game that will go down as one of the most thrilling in this annual matchup in quite some time.
The Riders accumulated 160 yards on the ground and Darian Durant finished with 204 yards on 14 of 26 passing.
With the win, the Riders captured their 10th straight Labour Day Weekend win over the Blue Bombers who put forth a valiant effort despite the loss.
Facing a stout defence and a rabid Riders fan base, Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy helped subdue the environment around him by leading a calm opening drive which put the Bombers inside the Saskatchewan 35 yard line off the strength of a pair of completions to receiver Nick Moore.
Threatening on their first possession of the game, Willy took a shot deep, looking for receiver Aaron Kelley on a 32-yard corner route, but had his pass broken up by DB Woodney Turenne. Turenne’s knockdown landed into the hands of fellow DB Mark LeGree who picked off the pass and returned it out of the endzone.
Willy and the Bombers came away with nothing on their first drive as far as the scoreboard is concerned but they did manage to tilt the field in their favour. A defensive stand forced the Riders to punt from their own end zone and that, combined with a 15-yard no-yards penalty, put the Bombers up on the Saskatchewan 31 yard line to begin their next series.
Willy quickly found Moore over the middle for 23-yards which, despite a fumble, put the Bombers in striking distance. A play later, Willy handed the ball off to Nic Grigsby who muscled his way to the end zone on a 6-yard touchdown run. The league’s leading rusher silenced the raucous Mosaic crowd and gave Winnipeg an early 7-0 lead.
Looking to answer, the Riders put together their most promising drive of the first quarter with just under two minutes remaining. Quarterback Darian Durant got the drive started by finding Rob Bagg, Jerome Messam and Weston Dressler all for first downs. The latter, was making his return after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) earlier in the week.
Dressler returned to a standing ovation earlier in the game after a week of speculation and contract negotiations finally brought the fan favourite back to the place where he hoisted the Grey Cup last November.
After the Riders passed mid-field their drive stalled and they were forced to attempt a 48-yard field goal. Chris Milo booted the attempt slightly wide left and off the goal post and came away with no points as the second quarter got underway.
After the Bombers conceded a safety and the teams traded two-and-outs, Winnipeg found themselves scrimmaging from their own 2 yard line after a brilliant punt on the run by kicker Josh Bartel. A draw play and an incompletion on a corner route and the Bombers conceded another safety, putting the Riders within a field goal, 7-3, with 7:48 remaining in the second.
The safety was to save the Bombers some field position but the decision was moot after the ensuing kickoff was returned 58 yards by defensive back Tristan Jackson as he set his team up at the Winnipeg 28 yard line.
Willy and the Bombers were able to muster a first down but then had to punt on the ensuing drive. They got only a 28-yard boot away and Durant and co. quickly added to their lead. The Riders’ pivot found Dressler for 11 yards on a swing pass and then scampered 9 yards on his own. After he completed a 19-yard pass to Taj Smith, Milo booted a 17-yard field goal to extend the Riders lead to 14-7 heading into halftime.
Heading into the break with all of the momentum, the Riders built on their advantage when the second half began. On Winnipeg’s second possession, Ricky Foley got at Willy and not only stripped the ball but recovered it on the Winnipeg 43 yard line.
Durant took over, finding Bagg for 10, handing off to Messam who powered for 19 before punching it in from three yards out by handing the ball off to running back Anthony Allen. Saskatchewan’s third major of the game lifted them to a 21-7 lead but the rest of the third quarter would be all Winnipeg.
A solid 33-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Troy Stoudermire gave the Bombers good field position and Willy, who looked hobbled after the Foley fumble, stepped up with his most impressive drive of the game. A 6-play, 59-yard march was capped off by a QB keeper for an 11-yard touchdown to cut the Riders lead to 21-14.
The Bombers got a quick two-and-out before officially swinging momentum completely in their favour.
The fourth quarter began and the Bombers continued to roll. Willy handed off to Grigsby for a gain of 9 before heaving a ball up for Moore, who made a spectacular 26-yard snag. A 33-yard field goal two plays later put the Blue Bombers in front 24-21 with 11:18 remaining.
Riders too much to handle on the ground
Five Roughriders carried the ball Sunday afternoon to the tune of 160 total yards to help keep the Bombers defence on their heels …View Game Stats
Despite gaining a pair of first downs, the Bombers defence continued to hold Durant in check, forcing a punt situation. Bartel lined up and rolled right to try and get the ball away but Winnipeg receiver Cory Watson got his mitts on the punt, blocking the boot and forcing the turnover. The block led to a 46-yard Lirim Hajrullahu field goal to increase Winnipeg’s lead to 27-21.
Calm throughout the entire second half, despite not solving a determined Winnipeg defence, Durant finally settled in with just under five minutes remaining. The veteran pivot dropped back and delivered a strike to an open Smith who completed a 59-yard touchdown score to re-take the lead 28-27.
Smith’s major got the crowd back in it but did not take the Bombers out of it as a 23-yard Grigsby romp and a pair of Carl Volny runs set up a Hajrullahu field goal with 2:58 on the clock to put the Bombers back up 30-28.
In a game that seemed to come down to who would have the ball last, Durant took over and with a mix of completions and drive-extending runs was able to get the Riders back in front. Durant ran twice for 18 yards and allowed Messam to wear down the Bombers defence.
With 28 seconds left, Allen side-stepped a would-be tackler and dove over the goal line for a 15-yard game-winning touchdown to complete a 9-play, 57 yard drive and the 35-30 victory.
The two teams will have a chance to rekindle their rivalry next week in the rematch also known as the ‘Banjo Bowl’ at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field.