REGINA -- Two cross-division rivals are set to renew hostilities on Sunday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Riderville for the first of back-to-back games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Despite heading in different directions, there’s no mistaking the urgency in the air for both of these clubs ahead of a huge clash between heated rivals.
Statements are to be made and that holds particularly true for the Bombers, whose situation coming into the weekend may be summed up best by opposing starting quarterback Darian Durant of the Roughriders.
Asked about Winnipeg’s mindset coming into the game, the 31-year-old’s response was simple.
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“Just get a win,” Durant told Riderville.com. “What better team to get a win against than the team that has the best record in the league?”
“Those guys are going to come in here fired up, it’s going to be a great test for them and you can just look at it like it’s us against the world and let’s shock the world.”
The veteran pivot in his eighth season with the Riders has seen just about everything in his CFL career, which is why he knows just how dangerous a team like the Bombers can be.
It’s also why the Roughriders aren’t about to overlook a Bomber team that’s lost six straight games.
“Just a couple years ago roles were reversed at this same exact game, and we came out and I think we took both of these games if I’m not mistaken,” said Durant, referring back to the 2011 season when the 1-7 Roughriders out-scored the 7-1 Blue Bombers 72-30 over the span of a back-to-back wins.
“So it can happen, that’s the reason why you can’t overlook these guys, they’re so hungry and they’re going through a lot of change over there as well – those guys are fighting for their jobs and they want to come out and play well.”
That’s a billing the Bombers, who have an opportunity to step into the ring with the league’s best two weeks in a row, hope they can live up to – especially on the heels of a 37-14 loss in Guelph to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
For that to happen, however, second-year head coach Tim Burke said it’s going to require something more from the Blue and Gold.
“We’ve got to have passion, we’ve got to have great effort,” Burke told BlueBombers.com. “I think particularly on defence we didn’t have a very good effort in the first quarter against Hamilton and it took a shock to get them going.”
“If you sit around and wait to see what happens against Saskatchewan you’ll find yourself way behind, so we’re going to have to come out of the chute playing really hard.”
The Bombers paid dearly after a slow start against Hamilton, in which the Ticats jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead that they’d never relinquish en-route to their third straight win. What was more alarming than the goose egg on the board for the Bombers was the defensive performance.
The coaching staff hopes this week that the injection into the lineup of former Ticat Greg Peach, signed this week to play on the Bombers’ defensive line after being cut earlier in the season, can give the defence a much-needed boost.
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“Greg brings a guy who’s gonna play hard every down, and he’s tough and he’s blue-collar,” said defensive coordinator Casey Creehan, who used to coach Peach in Hamilton. “After the performance we put out there in the first quarter of last week we had guys turning down hits, we had guys not running to the ball, we played uninspired football and we aren’t going to tolerate it.”
“That’s a message to our locker-room that hey, we’re going to play hard around here, we might get beat but we’re going to play hard and we’re going to give these fans what we deserve.”
Burke, meanwhile, said that’s the kind of attitude the Bombers need to show every week – if not for themselves, then for the fans. That was his other message for his team heading into Sunday’s game.
“The other thing I’m going to tell them is hey, the good people of Winnipeg pay your salaries, and they expect a heck of a lot more for the money they’re putting into it,” Burke told reporters this week.
“There are a lot of people that pay tickets for our games that are not well to do, we owe it to them to do a much better job, certainly to play at the highest level we can play at – if it’s good enough then it’s good enough, if it’s not then at least we put forth the best effort that we can possibly give.”
Regardless of whether the Bombers take Burke’s message to heart or not, the Roughriders aren’t about to take any chances.
Heading into the 50th Labour Day clash between these two teams, Saskatchewan has won the last eight clashes in the event dating back to 2004.
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Now situated in first place in the West after consecutive hard-fought wins over the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos, the Roughriders have a chance to create more distance atop the West Division if they can earn a win this weekend at what should be a sold out Mosaic Stadium.
“We need it,” said linebacker Rey Williams, who returned to the Roughriders this off-season. “We need it, we have a great game plan this week defensively, the more noise they make the better.”
Williams said this week that the Riders’ defence needs to get back to what made it so successful at the beginning of the season – getting after the quarterback.
“We’re going to bring some heat, we’re going to try making it uncomfortable back there, make them make quick decisions,” he continued. “Any time you come into a hostile environment, they’re going to have to go into a silent count. They won’t be able to ‘hut hut hut’ us to death, so we should be able to time up our blitzes pretty quickly and get to him.”
Second-year head coach Corey Chamblin added that the team’s approach to slowing down Winnipeg’s offence will be to avoid losing containment on Goltz, a quarterback with a big arm and the ability to run on any given play.
Goltz gets the call for the Bombers while last week’s starter, Hall, nurses a hand injury.
“He’s a big guy and earlier in the year I know they did some quarterback sweeps and different things with him, and he has some legs, we just have to make sure that we keep him contained in the pocket and if they have some called quarterback plays then we treat him as a running back,” said Chamblin.
Stopping the run game however, whether led by Goltz or shifty running back Chad Simpson, can’t be the only focus if the Riders aren’t going to get burned.
“I’ve been in some games where young quarterbacks have big nights when you start focusing on just one thing,” added Chamblin. “The biggest thing is we have to play them like they’re a team at the top, and that means they have more threats than in just the run game so we have to make sure that we’re very sound on defence in all phases.”
The Riders are a team notorious for starting quick out of the gate, before eventually cooling off. This year’s edition has so far avoided any kind of pitfalls, bouncing back from its one loss to Calgary on the way to an impressive 7-1 record.
For that reason, all eyes will be on both of these rivals on Sunday, as the Riders look to prove they’re a different team than in the past, while the Bombers look to ‘shock the world’, just as Durant suggested they’re out to do.
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 Riderville.com/BlueBombers.com