Riders preparing for Labour Day rematch of 2019 West Final

The annual Labour Day Classic matchup between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers comes with added weight this year, as the two rivals meet for the first time since the 2019 Western Final.

“That’s been the motivation all off-season for 18 months. It’s been my driving force,” said Cody Fajardo, the Riders' quarterback.

With a chance to play in the Grey Cup, the Riders lost 20-13 to Winnipeg. Fajardo threw an incomplete pass to Kyran Moore on the final play of the game, hitting the crossbar in an attempt to tie the game.

“That’s a fire that’s burning in me. We’re off to a great start but I can’t think about 2019,” Fajardo said. “I have to think about our opportunities in 2021 and go out there and give our team the best opportunity to win a football game.”

Saskatchewan has won 14 of the last 15 Labour Day contests. In 2019, Brett Lauther successfully made a field goal with no time left on the clock to lift the Riders to a 19-17 win over Winnipeg.

Punter Jon Ryan and Lauther celebrated the win by running into Pil Country, an area where fans have a reputation for being rambunctious.

“In my memories, it was a 10/10. It was a perfect situation,” Ryan said. “Everything was perfect. It would have been an 11 if I could have got my hands on a Pil but other than that I think it was a 10.”

However, the Bombers have won when it mattered. In 2018, Winnipeg beat Saskatchewan in the Western semi-final. A year later, the Riders suffered the same fate at the hands of their rivals in the Western Final at Mosaic Stadium.

Riders’ defensive back Ed Gainey remembers the losses more than the wins.

“I always think about 2019, 2018. They put us out a few years in a row. I still have a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Winnipeg all I want to do is win,” Gainey said.

Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris is already stirring the pot ahead of the Sunday matchup at Mosaic Stadium./

“You know there’s nothing better than shutting up 30,000 fans in their building and that’s what we’re aiming to do,” the Bombers running back said.

The Riders, who started the season 3-0, don’t mind the trash talk.

“I’m sure that’s Winnipeg’s motivation coming in,” Craig Dickenson, the Riders head coach, said. “They want to turn this place into a quiet little place and our motivation is the opposite.”

The Bombers are currently 3-1, their only loss coming against the Toronto Argonauts in Week 3. The rivals are currently at the top of the West Division and have the best combined winning percentage entering Labour Day since 1950.

“We try to treat it as similar as we can but these guys know it’s a big game and I think they’re anxious to play. They’ve been off for a week with the bye and I think they’re hungry to get out there and fly around a little bit,” Dickenson said.

The Riders are facing two former teammates: quarterback Zach Collaros and defensive end Willie Jefferson. Receiver Naaman Roosevelt recently signed with Winnipeg, but won’t be available to play in time for the contest on Sunday.

Gainey, who also played with Collaros in Hamilton, believes the quarterback looks more confident than ever.

“Right now he’s just looking to run, scramble to throw. Back [in Hamilton] he was looking to scramble to get the first down. He’s definitely more confident in his arm and overall game,” Gainey said.

Collaros has never lost as a starter on Labour Day, going 3-0 with Hamilton and winning with Saskatchewan in 2018.

Fajardo, who is expected to start for the Riders on Sunday, will be the first Saskatchewan quarterback to make consecutive Labour Day starts since 2014.