Blue Bombers defence ready for another crack at Riders in Banjo Bowl
WINNIPEG — Willie Jefferson is always a formidable foe, but on Saturday there may be a bit more fire in his belly.
The Blue Bombers star defensive lineman is cranked up for the sold out Banjo Bowl with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a Winnipeg rematch he hopes won’t have the late-game defensive breakdowns that led to Saskatchewan’s 19-17 victory last weekend.
"It makes things a lot more interesting just to know that the defence has to come out here and play the same offence again, (but) with a different crowd, better crowd," Jefferson said after the Bombers walk-through on Friday.
"There’s a lot of spirit going into this game, knowing the history of this game, knowing what the game this week will bring to the CFL standings."
First place in the West Division is on the line. The Bombers hold that spot with an 8-3 record, but the Riders are right behind at 7-3 and have a game in hand and the first victory in the teams’ three-game season series.
Saskatchewan is on a six-game win streak and Winnipeg has won its past eight straight games at IG Field.
In last weekend’s Labour Day Classic in Regina, Winnipeg was ahead with just over three minutes remaining in the game. The Riders started on their own five-yard line and quarterback Cody Fajardo marched them down the field for Brett Lauther’s winning 26-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.
"We’ll try not to get to that situation again," Jefferson said. "Try to get a little bit more stops, a little more energy on the defensive side of the ball."
Fajardo described the Bombers’ defence as one of the best in the league and said getting past them in that last drive was a boost.
"I think what I told the guys after the game was, ‘We were great when we had to be great,’ " Fajardo said after arriving in Winnipeg. "When the game was on the line, our offence really pulled together. We made a lot of plays so we know we can do it.
"I think that gave us a lot of confidence going into this game, but we still know what they’ve got on the other side of the ball."
The Roughriders have no changes to their roster from last week. The Bombers have four, including more to its depleted offence that’s still without starting quarterback Matt Nichols (shoulder) and running back Andrew Harris (suspended).
Winnipeg receiver Lucky Whitehead is out with an injury and receiver Nic Demski is a game-time decision. Long-snapper Chad Rempel was put on the six-game injured list after being hit by Riders defensive lineman Lavar Edwards. His head banged the turf and no penalty was called.
The Bombers are filling his duties with linebacker Thomas Miles, who’s been practising snapping all season, and newly signed long-snapper Maxime Latour out of Sherbrooke.
"We’ll see how things go," Winnipeg kicker Justin Medlock said. "They’re both solid."
Chris Streveler is making his third straight start in place of Nichols.
"I know the fans are going to bring a lot of energy and they’re extremely fired up for this one, as are we," Streveler said of his first start at home this season.
Bombers receiver Rasheed Bailey is excited to take Whitehead’s spot and play his first professional game after being on the practice roster of five NFL clubs.
He choked up while telling reporters how his old Delaware Valley University coach was the first person he told about playing.
"And after I text him, I just felt all the emotions come to me and I shed a few tears because that’s how much this game means to me," Bailey said.
Riders veteran linebacker Solomon Elimimian is ready to silence a loud crowd with some scoring.
"As a competitor, any time you can play in a hostile environment it’s fun. It really is fun," he said. "I know people say it’s a lot of distractions, you got this and that, but you’ve just got to focus a little bit more."
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (7-3) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (8-3)
Saturday, IG Field
CLOSE CALLS : The Bombers hold an 8-7 edge in Banjo Bowl victories. The team that’s scored first in the games has won 10 times out of 15.
LUCKY 7: A win by the Riders would give them their first seven-game win streak and 8-3 start since 2014.
ON A ROLL: Saskatchewan receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux has caught at least one pass in 107 straight games.