REGINA -- Scotiabank Labour Day Weekend continues on Sunday, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Mosaic Stadium for a highly anticipated Labour Day Classic matchup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The matinee matchup will be an opportunity for both teams to make a statement to each other and the rest of the league, that neither of them is willing to give up that easily.
The Riders know better than anyone else how quickly things can change, and after their season went a little downhill after a 3-0 start, now they’ll try to turn it around just as quickly.
|Related: Bombers at Riders|
Must win game? Probably not in Week 10 of the season, but Sunday’s meeting is as big as they come for the Green and White.
“It would have an extreme significance to this season,’’ Riders defensive tackle Tearrius George told the Regina Leader Post. “We have to come into Sunday’s game with that mindset. You never want to think too far ahead, but you have to think ahead to think right about the place you’re at.”
The Riders are already two wins ahead of last year’s pace coming into Labour Day weekend, but with the way things have been going for them as of late, they are well aware that the next two games present an opportunity to get right back into contention.
Quarterback Darian Durant feels getting that elusive streak-ending win is more important than trying to string together consecutive victories.
“We need to roll off a win just to get that winning feeling and some joy in that locker-room,’’ Durant said. “That means everyone would come to work a little happier and that’s the goal.’’
Durant, who turned 30 recently, led a players only meeting following last weekend’s 17-10 loss to the Stamps in a blustery day at Mosaic Stadium, with winds up to 85 km/h. The Riders threatened late and came to within a touchdown of tying the game, but couldn’t overcome a pair of second-half fumbles.
This week they’ll be facing a feisty Bombers team with a little bit of a new look, after they dismissed Paul LaPolice and named defensive coordinator Tim Burke as the new Head Coach.
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“From what I heard, a lot of guys were happy about the move over there,’’ said Durant. “They are definitely coming to play harder for Coach Burke. From what I understand he’s a players’ coach and they love him.”
Winnipeg’s coaching situation is similar to what the Riders went through in 2011.
The Riders fired rookie head coach Greg Marshall and offensive coordinator Doug Berry after opening with a 1-7 record. Ken Miller, who resigned after the 2010 Grey Cup loss to the Montreal Alouettes to concentrate on his duties as vice-president of football operations, returned as head coach.
Miller made his 2011 debut in the Labour Day Classic, which provided the Riders with an emotional burst for at least three games. The Riders are expecting the Blue Bombers to get a similar boost from Burke.
“That was the same circumstance for Coach Miller,” added Durant. “I’m not saying we didn’t like Coach Marshall, but we had a guy in Coach Miller that the guys really wanted to play for. That’s the same case over there.’’
Last year that kind of boost appeared to be the difference for the Riders, who went into Labour Day Weekend as a heavy underdog against the 7-1 Bombers, who boasted the league’s top defence and should’ve rolled over the struggling Riders.
“We were sky high and feeling good about ourselves,’’ said former Blue Bombers guard Brendon LaBatte, who signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent during the off-season. “Then we came here and didn’t get the desired effect and got it handed to us. It wasn’t good, but we did feel good coming in.’’
The Riders made changes after the 2011 season when Miller resigned from both positions. Corey Chamblin was hired as head coach — from a short list that included Burke — and brought a new attitude to the Riders.
“I see more differences than similarities to last year and the mood is way different,’’ George said. “We had guys last year who seemed to give up when things got hard. This year you still see guys fighting and doing the little things while trying to pump people up. There is a sense of urgency because we need to win these back-to-back games and get back into the fight for the playoffs.’’
|The last time they met|
Darian Durant threw four touchdown passes, while West Cates rushed for 50 yards anda touchdown as the Riders won a second straight game against the Bombers, 45-23. Buck Pierce struggled against a hungry Riders defence, throwing five interceptions in the loss. Terrence Edwards and Cory Watson each had over 100 yards receiving for the Bombers, who couldn't bounce back after surrendering 24 points in the second quarter.
There’s little doubt Sunday’s battle will be an emotional one with plenty on the line, which is something the Bombers hope they’ll be able to capitalize on as they look to avoid an eighth straight Labour Day Weekend loss to the Riders.
They’re coming off arguably one of their better games of the season despite not getting the win at home against the BC Lions, as the Bombers looked to have a solid chance to win in the fourth quarter, before just coming up short in a 20-17 loss.
Still, despite a rough start to the season, the Bombers are right in the thick of things in the highly-competitive East Division, sitting just one game out of a playoff spot entering the weekend.
This weekend they’ll play a team with equal urgency coming in, in a place they’ve struggled to win in the past.
“For us it’s just the ‘us against the world’ mentality, because that’s what it feels like,” said Jovon Johnson. “When you go into Saskatchewan and play a game, their fans are rowdy, the game is excited, and it ultimately comes down to who wants it more.”
Mosaic Stadium is a difficult place to play on the best of days, but when the Bombers are in town, the intensity reaches its peak.
While the Bombers are used to playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the league, it’s different when the fans are against you – especially for QB Joey Elliott and his offensive line.
“You just have to go out there and prepare with the crowd noise during practice, and work on your silent counts and make sure that as an offensive line you’re playing as a cohesive unit and knowing where each other will be without having to verbalize it,” said Bombers offensive lineman Glenn January, who played for the Riders in 2008.
Elliott, meanwhile, will make his third straight start on Sunday, and will look to continue turning heads after a successful first two games. He’s 1-1 in two starts this season, but held his own against a ferocious BC defence and gave his team a chance to win in the second half.
The third-year pivot had most of his offence in the second half, leading the Bombers to a touchdown and setting them up with four field goal tries in the final 30 minutes, while going two-and-out just once.
Receiver Chris Matthews, meanwhile, will look for a CFL-best fifth 100-yard receiving game this season, as the rookie receiver has a touchdown in five of eight games this season and trails only Montreal’s S.J. Green in receiving yards.
The Riders will look to get the same kind of performance from Durant against the Bombers as they did a year ago, when the agile pivot threw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception in the season series.
The last time the Bombers won on Labour Day was in 2004, when they beat the Riders 17-4.
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 Postmedia and BlueBombers.com
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|