Words into action

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:43 PM ET

They told us over and over how good they were.

Even as the losses piled up, five in a row going into this weekend, they insisted they were better than their record suggested.

Finally, on a blustery but bright September day, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers proved it wasn’t all just hot air.

Led by a tenacious defence that continues to treat the Saskatchewan O-line like its own play thing and an efficient, if unspectacular, offence that finally established a dominant ground game, the Bombers dropped a 31-2 defeat in the laps of the Riders in Sunday’s Banjo Bowl.

Hands up, anybody who saw that score coming.

I guess the Bombers still don’t know how to win the close ones.

But for now, it doesn’t matter, not when you’ve avenged last year’s Banjo Bowl embarrassment and ended a miserable losing streak against your Trans-Canada rival.

It was a predictably celebratory scene in the Bomber locker-room after the game, led by a wobbly rendition of Happy Birthday over in O-line corner.

At the centre of it, Winnipeg hog Brendon LaBatte, who’d just unwrapped the best gift a 24-year-old Bomber from Weyburn, Sask., could get on a day like this.

“That win — hands-down,” LaBatte said. “It’s been a long time coming. That was the sixth time I’ve played those guys and the first time we’ve won ... it was awfully sweet.”

It wasn’t so much a win as a physical punishment.

From Jovon Johnson’s early hit on Riders receiver Chris Getzlaf to Marcellus Bowman’s violent, second-half destruction of fullback Chris Szarka, this was a side of the Bombers we haven’t seen before.

“We were a little more hammer, and not so much nail,” is how LaBatte put it. “The pads were poppin.’ It was good.”

Another thing we hadn’t seen from these Bombers: a fast start.

This was the CFL’s worst team on first possessions, an early-game snoozer. So go figure it answers a noon wake-up call, its earliest of the season, with a first-drive touchdown.

And if you don’t think that was critical, you don’t know how tight this bunch had become.

“It was kind of like the train gettin’ goin’ — it just wouldn’t stop,” LaBatte said.

Neither would Winnipeg’s two freight trains on defence, ends Phillip Hunt and Odell Willis, who had just one destination all afternoon: the grill of Riders quarterback Darian Durant.

The Bomber D was murder to pass against and even tougher to run on. That doesn’t leave much.

“That’s how you need to play defensively,” tackle Doug Brown said. “You need to inspire one another.”

On the other side of the ball, the Bomber offence has had better days, and lost.

It helps to get most of the breaks, especially three turnovers negated by opposition penalties, two of them interceptions thrown by Steven Jyles, who didn’t even crack the 170-yard mark in passing.

But the Bombers, 3-7, will take a conservative, short-game win over a bombs-away loss, any day.

When it’s a 29-point decision over a solid team like the Riders, who knows, it might even turn a season around.

“We really needed this one,” Brown said. “For our psyche and for our confidence and for our morale. It’s prudent that it came at the second-half turn of the corner for us. Because we need to have a separate identity from how we performed in the first half.”

But Brown’s been around the block a few times, too, knowing it’s only the start.

“It’s going to mean precious little if we can’t continue on and get our first win on the road next week,” he concluded.

No hot air there.

Just the cold, hard truth for a team that will have to spend the second half digging itself out of a hole.

At least they finally picked up the shovel.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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