Just because it’s been more than 650 days since Saskatchewan and Winnipeg last met, doesn’t mean Roughrider defensive back Ed Gainey still doesn’t hold a grudge.
After all, this is the team that knocked Gainey and the Roughriders out of the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
Another playoff meeting could be on the horizon with Saskatchewan and Winnipeg atop the West Division, but first, they’ll meet for the first time since the 2019 West Final in the annual Labour Day Classic on Sunday night at Mosaic Stadium in the opener of a home-and-home set.
Off to their best start since opening 5-0 in 2013, the Roughriders (3-0) are the league’s only undefeated team, led by an offence that averages a CFL-best 28.7 points per game.
The Blue Bombers (3-1), meanwhile, boast the league’s best defence, ranking first in points allowed per game (14.8).
“It’s going to be challenging,” said Winnipeg quarterback Cody Fajardo, the CFL’s Top Performer of the Month of August. “They got a really good defence and a really good offence. It’s a good football team, they’re the defending Grey Cup champs.”
Winnipeg advanced to the 107th Grey Cup with a 20-13 win at Saskatchewan on Nov. 17, 2019 – the second straight year the Blue Bombers ended the Roughriders’ season on their home turf after a 23-18 victory in the 2018 West Semi-final.
“I always think about 2019, 2018,” Gainey said. “They put us out a few years in a row so I still got a bad taste in my mouth. When it comes to Winnipeg all I want to do is win. If we’re not doing that we’re doing something wrong.”
Not much has gone wrong in 2021 for the Roughriders, who should be well rested coming out of a bye following a 23-10 Week 3 win over the Ottawa Redblacks in which Fajardo completed 30 of 35 passes for a season-high 321 yards.
The Blue Bombers are also in good shape with 2019 Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris back in the fold after he missed the first three games with a calf injury.
In his season debut, Harris rushed for 81 yards on 17 carries in last Sunday’s thrilling 18-16 comeback win over the Calgary Stampeders, scoring on a two-yard run late in the first quarter. His performance came after Winnipeg rushed for a combined 85 yards in its previous two games.
“It was great to get out there and just get back in the swing of things,” Harris said. “Everything felt great and I’m just going to keep getting stronger throughout the season.”
Although Winnipeg has had Saskatchewan’s number in the playoffs, the Roughriders have dominated the Blue Bombers in the Labour Day Classic, winning 14 of the last 15.
Saskatchewan has also won its last 10 regular-season games at Mosaic Stadium – its only blemish there in the last two years coming to Winnipeg in the playoffs.
“When you come out to Mosaic it’s always loud there and always a fun environment to play in and a hostile one,” Harris said. “There’s nothing better than shutting up 30,000 fans in their building and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”