The Riders bagged the swag.
One week after upsetting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by 20 points in the Labour Day Classic, Saskatchewan went into Swaggerville and destroyed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 43-25 on Sunday to complete a home-and-home sweep. The last time they swept the Bombers was 2009, but back then they were expected to.
No one saw this coming. You could almost sense a victory in the Classic due to the emotional return of Ken Miller to the sidelines but the Banjo Bowl outcome seemed to be, at best, a toss-up.
However the Riders had other ideas. Despite a slow start that saw them fall down 10-0 early, Darian Durant fired three touchdowns in the second quarter to give the club a lead it would not relinquish. By the time the clock hit 0:00, there was no one left in Canad Inns Stadium but Rider fans.
"I am so proud of the men in this room," gushed Miller after the game. "We overcame adversity and distractions. It was a big win in a hostile place. The men showed a lot of character."
The turning point in the game had to be the first-half sack on Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce by rookie Rider safety Craig Butler in which Pierce's helmet went flying for 10 yards. Pierce was never the same after that, as he threw five interceptions on the day, two of which were picked off by Butler.
It was the season debut for Rider slotback Andy Fantuz and he was limited to just two catches. However his impact on the game was immense.
"They were doubling Fantuz all day and it opened up things for Getzlaf and Dressler," Durant explained. "That's the impact he has, the attention he draws from the defence. They can't just key in on Getz and Dress anymore and that makes us a whole other animal to deal with."
It's difficult to explain the grip Ken Miller has on this team but it's immense. The firing of coaches Greg Marshall and Doug Berry on August 19 was criticized by many across the land, even by some in the Rider Nation, but the critics have nothing to say now; at least not at the moment. The club is still a distasteful 3-7 and out of a playoff spot, but they're 2-0 under Miller.
"It's hard to say what the difference is," Craig Butler said. "The locker room
atmosphere, the way we practice now. We all believe. Sometimes you need to make a change and it's been for the better. We're playing Rider football from what I've seen watching this team the past four or five years."
There's an old saying that "two's a fluke, three's a streak." However if the Riders pull out another victory over the 2-8 Toronto Argonauts Saturday in Regina, I think we can safely say the Riders are back.
(Rod Pedersen is the voice of the Riders on 620 CKRM)