September 7, 2018

The Bombers get a rematch with the Riders

Naaman Roosevelt has done a lot in his three-plus seasons with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

There are a few things left on his wish list, including winning a Grey Cup … and winning a game in Winnipeg.

Roosevelt is 0-3-0 in the Manitoba capital, having endured a 22-7 loss there on Sept. 12, 2015, a 17-10 defeat on Sept. 10, 2016, and a 48-28 setback on Sept. 9, 2017.

His next chance to win a game there comes Saturday, when the Roughriders visit the Bombers for the Labour Day rematch (2 p.m., CKRM, TSN).

“I had never won in B.C. before either (prior to a 24-21 victory over the host Lions on Aug. 25) and we put it on ourselves to play even harder and get it done,” Roosevelt said.

“But I know this week is going to be a challenge. It’s going to be loud, the fans are going to be ready to go and (the Bombers) are going to be ready to go, too. This is a must-win for them. It’s up to us to be physical like we were last week and play our A game.”

Saskatchewan beat the visiting Bombers 31-23 on Sunday, giving the Roughriders their 13th victory in the past 14 editions of the Labour Day Classic. Winnipeg has won the past three return engagements (and four of the past five) and owns an 8-6-0 record in the rematch since the series started.

The Bombers have swept the home-and-home series twice (2004 and ’16) and the Roughriders have won both ends six times (2005, ’08, ’09, ’11, ’12 and ’14). The teams have split the series six times.

Cornerback Jovon Johnson has never enjoyed a sweep in the series — the Bombers lost both games four times and split twice during his six seasons in Winnipeg and each team won a game in 2017 when he returned to the Roughriders — so he feels like he and his team are due.

“It would be huge for playoff implications and for many different reasons,” Johnson said. “For our team, it would show that we’re trending in the right direction. Guys are getting comfortable playing for each other and playing together.

“Knowing what the ultimate goal is, as long as we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves, I think we have the makeup of a very good football team.”

The Roughriders have won three straight games and take a 6-4-0 record into Saturday’s contest.

With 12 points, Saskatchewan is tied for second place in the West Division with the Edmonton Eskimos (6-5-0). The Roughriders have a game in hand, but Edmonton won the teams’ first meeting this season.

Winnipeg, meanwhile, has lost three in a row and has a 5-6-0 slate.

“They’ve got a very good football team,” cautioned Roughriders head coach-GM Chris Jones. “They’re in a situation that we were in about two or three weeks ago. They’re needing a win.

“A lot of people are writing them off, but we were fortunate to have won the football game (Sunday). They’re a very formidable team. They’ve got a good quarterback, they’ve got a good coaching staff and they’ll be well-prepared.”

So will the fans at Investors Group Field.

The Bombers have announced that Saturday’s game is sold out and, while some of the patrons will be Roughriders supporters, the majority of the fans will not be Roughriders supporters.

Middle linebacker Sam Hurl played three seasons in Winnipeg before rejoining the Roughriders this off-season, so he’s well aware that the stadium will be rocking Saturday. But Hurl doesn’t think he has to prepare his newer Roughriders teammates for what’s coming.

“There are a lot of guys in this locker room who have played in big games at big schools and they understand what it’s like to be in a hostile environment,” he said. “As players, we feed off that. It’s OK to have the crowd cheering against us. We want to silence them by making big plays.

“Maybe for the younger Canadian guys, I might say, ‘Hey listen, it’s going to be really loud. Be ready for it.’ But ultimately that kind of energy in a stadium — whether it’s for you or against you — is exciting.”

Many of the Roughriders said before the Labour Day Classic that there’s something special about the team’s biggest rivalry game of the season. Sweeping the back-to-back, then, would give the Green and White some bragging rights.

“When you can do something like that in games where there’s a rivalry — where there’s a little bit more of an edge to it, a little more talking, a little more of everything — it would definitely be a plus,” Roosevelt said.

Quarterback Zach Collaros got the win in the Classic, his first victory in the series as a member of the Roughriders. That gave him a 4-0-0 record as a starter in Labour Day games, following three victories over the Toronto Argonauts when he was with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

But things didn’t always go so well when the Tiger-Cats visited Toronto for the rematch.

“In ’14, we lost (34-33),” Collaros said. “I was supposed to meet my now-fiancé that night, but I didn’t meet her until a year later because I was so pissed that we lost that game. Luckily I met her. In ’15, we went back there and won (35-27) and then in ’16 we got smoked (33-21).

“I’m not quite sure of the history here, but I know we’ve had some trouble going back after winning here. But each year is a different thing. I’m not a huge believer in this game that history is going to repeat itself because it’s a new group of guys.”

And, Collaros noted, the current group has to keep its composure Saturday.

“If (the Bombers) jump on us early, the crowd is going to be involved,” he said. “We have to be able to stay even and stay focused on the task at hand.”