September 11, 2006

Bombers find right tune to capture Banjo Bowl

Stegall will not have to answer questions at grocery store

By Scott Taylor,
National Post

WINNIPEG – Perhaps it was the almost non-stop selection of classic banjo tunes playing on the P.A. system that inspired the Winnipeg Blue Bombers yesterday afternoon.

Or maybe it was just a simple determination to avenge last week’s 39-12 defeat at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Labour Day Classic.

Whatever the reason, the Blue Bombers came storming back from a 20-13 third-quarter deficit to defeat the Riders 27-23 in the third annual National Post Banjo Bowl at Canad Inns Stadium.

As the crowd of 30,026 was serenaded by banjo music, a couple of guys who had been missing from the Bombers’ orchestra with injuries recently made the difference for Winnipeg.

Quarterback Kevin Glenn teamed up with slotback Milt Stegall on a 13-yard TD pass late in the third quarter to tie the game at 20-20.

Then, on the final play of the third, Glenn hit Stegall on a 46-yard pass-and-run play down to the Roughriders’ five that set up a touchdown plunge by Charles Roberts on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Saskatchewan got a 40-yard field goal from Luca Congi with 2:50 left but that was it. Anthony Malbrough intercepted a Kerry Joseph pass on Saskatchewan’s final drive, and the Bombers put a halt to a four-game losing streak. Saskatchewan had its three-game winning streak stopped.

The win earned Winnipeg’s United Way campaign a cheque for $10,000. It was the Bombers’ second win in three Banjo Bowls.

“It was a hard-fought game and we just did enough to win,” said Stegall, who scored his 135th career touchdown, two short of tying the CFL record held by George Reed and Mike Pringle.

“We had a lot of chances in the first half, but came away with nothing but field goals. I knew that if we scored a touchdown or two in the second half, the way our defence was playing, we’d be just fine.”

The Bombers trailed 17-13 at halftime and had failed to score a major. Instead, four field goals and a single from kicker Troy Westwood — the man whose remark about Roughriders fans back in 2003 (jokingly calling them “a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds”) was the inspiration for the Banjo Bowl — was all the Bombers could muster.

Then, in the second half, Winnipeg outscored Saskatchewan 14-6 to drop the Riders to 6-6 on the season.

“Those Saskatchewan fans will have a long, lonely ride home on their combines,” Westwood said with a snicker.

This was a huge victory for the slumping Bombers. Once 5-2 and on a roll this season, the Bombers had lost four straight at home before yesterday’s hard-fought win. Now 6-6, they’re back in the hunt for first place in the East and continue to keep Edmonton at bay for a possible crossover playoff berth.

After their win over Calgary on Friday night, the 4-7 Eskimos started to get the cross-over playoff berth in their sights.

“It really was a huge win for us,” Stegall said. “Now I don’t have to go to the grocery store and have everybody ask me, ‘What’s wrong with you guys.’ We had a big crowd today and we had to give them a reason to come back to our next home game.”

Stegall finished the afternoon with seven catches (six in the second half) for 110 yards and a TD.

Roberts, meanwhile, carried 22 times for 103 yards and a TD and now leads the CFL with 1,054 yards rushing. It’s the fifth straight season in which Roberts has rushed for at least 1,000 yards.