Blue Bombers drop Labour Day Classic in overtime battle

Given his connection to Regina and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it was only fitting that rookie Jaxon Ford made the play that gave the Riders a 32-30 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday.

Ford, who grew up in Regina, is a rookie safety with the Riders, a team that his grandfather Alan Ford played for and served as general manager. With a sellout crowd of 33,350 at Mosaic Stadium for the Labour Day Classic, Jaxon Ford picked the perfect time to come up with the biggest play of his young CFL career.

After the Riders scored a touchdown and two-point convert on the first possession of overtime, the Bombers responded with a touchdown of their own. Ford’s heroics came on the ensuing two-point conversion when he deflected a pass from Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros to give Saskatchewan the victory.

It was supposed to be a blitz by (Derrick) Moncrief but we flipped it and I ran off the edge the best I could to make a play,” said Ford, who was playing because starting safety Jayden Dalke left the game with an injury.

“It was a rush of energy. I tipped the ball and turned around to see it on the ground and it was a rush of energy.”

Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther (12) celebrates with teammate Jaxon Ford (17) after recovering an onside kick against Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of CFL Labour Day Classic football action in Regina, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Riders head coach Craig Dickenson has faith in Ford, who the Riders picked in the second round (11th overall) of the 2023 CFL draft.

“He’s a good player and every time we put him out there, he’s done what he’s needed to do. We know if Dalke is down, we feel he can go in and start and play a game for us,” said Dickenson.

The Riders forced overtime when Brett Lauther kicked his fifth field goal of the game, an 18-yarder, with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Riders opened overtime with backup quarterback Antonio Pipkin scoring his second touchdown of the game on a one-yard sneak. Jake Dolegala followed up with a completion to Shawn Bane Jr. on the ensuing two-point convert to give the Riders a 32-24 lead.

Dolegala made a pinpoint throw on the play as it appeared that Bane Jr. was well covered.

“I thought I made the right read. It was Bane just running away from the linebacker and he was under cutting it. It had to be the perfect ball and the perfect catch, and it was,” said Dolegala, who finished the game 22 of 39 passing for 326 yards.

“The window was pretty small. If you guys could see it from my angle, I shouldn’t have thrown it.”

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Jake Dolegala (9) throws against Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of CFL Labour Day Classic football action in Regina, Sunday.
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Jake Dolegala (9) throws against Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of CFL Labour Day Classic football action in Regina, Sunday. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg overcame a 13-7 halftime deficit on Brady Oliveira’s second rushing major of the game, coming with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter, giving Winnipeg a 24-20 lead.

On the preceding play, the Riders appeared to have held the Bombers to a game-tying field goal when Collaros threw an incompletion on second-and-goal from the Saskatchewan five-yard line. However, Riders defensive lineman Pete Robertson took a 15-yard roughing penalty at the end of the play when he head-butted Collaros.

On the ensuing play, Oliveira took the ball untouched into the end zone. Oliveira also scored on a three-yard run late in the third quarter.

Dickenson was discouraged by Robertson’s lack of discipline.

“I didn’t see it so I can’t comment, but I’m disappointed we got a penalty after we stopped them on second down. That was an emotional game. The penalty that Pete got, from what I was told from upstairs, was that Pete earned that one. I don’t know if he’ll get fined or not, but I didn’t see it,” said Dickenson.

“I have to learn to control myself a little bit. It’s just a game. You can’t do extra with the quarterback, especially a guy like Zach,” said Robertson after the game.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) throws against Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half of CFL Labour Day Classic football action in Regina, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros was head-butted by Roughriders defensive lineman Pete Robertson in the team’s loss to Saskatchewan Sunday. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

The Riders, who are third in the CFL’s West Division, improved to 6-5 with the victory, while the Bombers, who occupy top spot in the West Division, slipped to 9-3. Winnipeg could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory.

The teams struggled offensively in the first quarter but quarterbacks Dolegala and Collaros found their respective strides in the second quarter.

Midway through the quarter Dolegala led the Riders on an eight-play, 102-yard drive that culminated with backup Pipkin scoring on a one-yard run.

The drive, which gave the Riders a 10-0 lead, included a 64-yard reception by Tevin Jones and a 37-yard  catch by Mitchell Picton.

Collaros, who began the game 0-for-4 passing with an interception, helped the Bombers respond following Pipkin’s

Starting from the Winnipeg 10-yard line, Collaros hit three consecutive passes — 20 yards to Dalton Schoen, 46 yards to Nik Demski and 34 yards to Drew Wolitarsky to give the Bombers their  first major of the day.

Wolitarsky’s diving catch in the end zone pulled the Bombers to within 10-7 with 3:34 left in the second quarter.

Collaros, despite completing just 13 of 26 passes, threw for 279 yards. Oliveira finished with 88 yards on 17 carries while Demski had 118 yards on five receptions. Linebacker Adam Bighill had two sacks for the Bombers.

Smoky conditions with poor visibility over Mosaic Stadium on Sunday morning
A plume of wildfire smoke hovered over Mosaic Stadium on Sunday morning. (Radio-Canada)

Earlier in the day, the Riders, Bombers, CFL and CFLPA were monitoring the air quality with in-stadium instruments to ensure safe conditions for players, coaches, staff and fans.

Smoke from ongoing wildfires in British Columbia’s Interior had drifted east, impacting the air quality in Saskatchewan. The Riders released a statement 40 minutes before kickoff that with the help of strong south winds, levels decreased steadily throughout the afternoon and were below the acceptable level for the game to go forward.

The Roughriders and Blue Bombers will play each other Saturday in the Manitoba capital.

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