BOMBSHELLS: First-place battle ramps up intensity in annual Banjo Bowl
No player who will be on the field Saturday has played in more Banjo Bowls than Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive tackle Jake Thomas.
This will be his seventh appearance in the rivalry game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the 28-year-old believes this one might be the most meaningful.
“I think I’m gonna safely assume this is the first time since I’ve been here that this is basically a battle for first place,” Thomas said Friday. “That adds something a bit more to it.”
The Bombers lead the CFL West Division with an 8-3 record, while the Riders come in on a six-game winning streak and are in second place at 7-3. If the Bombers win they can open up a four-point lead over the Riders, while a Saskatchewan win would put the teams into a tie with 16 points but would also give them the season series.
The Riders won 19-17 last week in the Labour Day Classic in Regina and can deal the Bombers a heavier blow if they can win Saturday at IG Field. They would essentially be a game ahead of the Bombers, with a game in hand, because of the season series win.
The Bombers are aware of that importance but also want to redeem themselves for letting a late lead slip away last week.
“Especially this week, coming off the way we lost last week, it’s exciting to get to play them again and hopefully we can turn the tide,” Thomas said.
“It’s definitely a special game to be a part of and definitely one you are always excited to play in. Being here for as long as I have been, you get to meet a lot of people in the community and you realize how big of a game this is, not just for the players but for both communities.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Quarterback Chris Streveler now has a 2-4 record as a CFL starter after earning a win and loss over the last two weeks.
One thing he hasn’t done a lot of is start on home field.
The last time Streveler started at IG Field was June 14, 2018, a season-opening 33-30 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.
“I had a start last year at home, first game of the year, and it was an exciting game,” Streveler said. “I know the fans are gonna bring a lot of energy and they’re extremely fired up for this one, as are we.”
Streveler has completed 32 of 57 pass attempts this season for 332 yards and two touchdowns, with five interceptions this season. He has also rushed for 336 yards and seven touchdowns.
Johnny Augustine ran for 98 yards and caught three passes for 17 yards in his first CFL start last week but he’s more proud of another aspect of his game.
“The biggest thing I take pride in is my pass protection and I think that’s one of the things I displayed on the field last week and I’m gonna continue doing that,” Augustine said Friday. “Even if I get zero carries, at the end of the day it’s protecting Chris (Streveler).”
Augustine is filling in at tailback for a couple of weeks for star Andrew Harris, the league’s leading rusher who is suspended for two games after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug.
It was obvious from his few previous appearances late in games that Augustine is a good runner, but there are so many more things Harris does in a game and some wondered if his replacement would be up for the task.
It’s not easy to learn pass protection when you are almost always on the sidelines.
“It’s mentally watching Andrew, studying him,” Augustine said. “A ton of film, just knowing what the schemes are, the defensive front. That’s a big part of the game. At the end of the day, you’ve got to protect your quarterback. So it’s about getting comfortable with the system and knowing your matchups.”
ROSE ON ROSTER
Larry Rose III was cut in training camp, recalled this week and will immediately be in the lineup as the backup tailback Saturday.
The Bombers added Rose to the roster after just two days of practice. He got the call to rejoin the team after John Santiago was injured and subsequently released from the practice roster.
At one point in the pre-season Rose would have been fifth on the depth chart behind Harris, Brady Oliveira, Augustine and Santiago, but now there’s a good chance he’ll see touches in the Banjo Bowl.
“He’s athletic, he’s fast, he can catch … he can do all those things,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “One of the things that really impressed me was anytime I walked into the building or I was leaving the building, Larry was plunked in the same seat, watching film. Sometimes he was out of his seat and he was, in a very small space, walking through his steps, taking notes. He was always extremely diligent.
“When you get a guy who is that invested, in terms of making sure he knows what he’s gonna do, it’s very easy to bring a guy back.
PLUG AND PLAY PETERMANN
Backup receiver Daniel Petermann has always shown well when called upon for the Bombers.
This season, he has been targeted 11 times and has caught 10 passes for 69 yards. He breaks tackles, fights for extra yards and holds onto the football.
He could get a chance to expand his role Saturday with slotback Nic Demski a game-time decision.
“I’m a lot more relaxed this year and I’ll be ready to step in and make plays,” Petermann, a 2018 third-round draft pick, said. “It would be awesome to be a part of it. I know the rivalry, I know it’s the Banjo Bowl. If I can make a couple plays or a full game, contribute in some way, that will be awesome.”