By Jim Bender
The Banjo Bowl featured a Winnipeg victory, a brawl, ejections, a hat trick, explosive touchdowns and a sold-out crowd of 33,134 fully-vaccinated fans at IG Field on Saturday.
Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros completed 18 of 23 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns to lead Winnipeg to a 33-9 trouncing of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Winnipeg swept the Riders to move atop the Canadian Football League West with an impressive 5-1 record.
“I’m just really happy for the organization and for our fans,” Collaros said. “I know Labour Day and the Banjo Bowl are very important to the CFL, to this organization and to our fans, ultimately, and we feel that as players. We know that. We take it one game at a time, obviously, but it means a little bit more to win both of these.”
Collaros completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darvin Adams and 40-yard TD toss to slotback Kenny Lawler to salt the game away in the fourth quarter.
Backup QB Sean McGuire scored three one-yard touchdowns.
“I thought Canada was a hockey country,” Collaros joked. “Like, how did everybody not throw their hats on the field. The hat-trick, you know?”
The Bombers defence held Saskatchewan to three first-half field goals by Brett Lauther and did not allow a single point in the second half for the second straight game.
“Hey, man, 33,000, we gave them exactly what they wanted,” said Winnipeg defensive end Willie Jefferson. “They wanted smoke; we gave them smoke. We gave them action. Come on down to Winnipeg. This is what we want to do. We want to entertain our fans and if our fans could come out and give us the noise that we need on defence, and special teams, and pump up our offence when we need it, we need that. Keep on bringing that.”
Saskatchewan quarterback Cody Fajardo suffered “a mild concussion” when Jefferson sacked him midway through the quarter and had to leave the game. He was replaced by Isaac Harker.
A melee also broke out in the second quarter. The Bombers taken a 12-9 lead on McGuire’s second touchdown late in the first half. That’s when a brawl erupted. Punches were thrown, players piled on each other and flags filled the end zone.As a result, Saskatchewan defensive lineman Garrett Marino and defensive back A.J. Hendy were ejected from the game. No Bomber was ejected.
“They came out hot, they came out wanting to throw a punch, but it was a brawl,” Jefferson said. “They threw a punch, we were gonna punch back. We’re not letting them knock us out in the first half. We just tried to stay in there, make it a tough fight, make it close going into halftime and, like I’ve said before, we’re a second-half team. When we come out of the second half, we were able to go up and do what we needed to do.”
Linebacker Adam Bighill was not surprised.
“You know the history of these Prairie teams,” he said. “They’ve been at it for a long time, long before we’ve been here. It’s just keeping the tradition alive, really. A game like this, blood boils hot and at the end of the day, sometimes it spills over. We’ve got to make sure we’re smart and on the right side of it, and it looks like we were today.”
Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson was surprised no Bomber was ejected.
“It wasn’t good news when they (officials) told me that two of our guys got tossed and I asked how many of theirs and they said none,” he said. “They said punches were thrown, so I assume that our guys did it.”
But Dickenson credited the Bombers for their play this season.
“Winnipeg is the class of the league right now,” Dickenson added. “I think they are better than the rest of us and I think it’s by quite a bit.”
The Bombers will next play the Elks in Edmonton on Saturday.