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REGINA — The annual Labour Day clash with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is always a big deal for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
But during an abbreviated regular season, quarterback Cody Fajardo said it takes on added significance.
Saskatchewan (3-0) hosts Winnipeg (3-1) on Sunday in a battle between the West Division's top two clubs. And they'll get to do it all over again at IG Field on Sept. 11.
“A 14-game season makes each and every game more significant,” Fajardo said following Saturday’s practice. “Labour Day is already as big as it possibly can be.
"It doesn’t matter how many games you’ve played because it’s a rivalry game. But when you have both teams at the top of the standings, it has a lot of implications later on in the season.”
Fajardo said he and his teammates are trying to keep the importance of the two-game series in perspective.
"For us, it's just going out there and taking it one game at time with the Labour Day game being the next one on the schedule," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot of pressure and expectations given the game is sold out and the intensity of the rivalry (but) it's football at the end of the day.
“The last thing I tell myself when I run out on the field (is) it's just a game, right? Don't make it bigger than it is because sometimes people put on added pressure that's not needed. In the end, if you have fun in that locker room, I think that's when we play our best.”
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea believes the significance of the game can't be measured until the season is over.
"That's really not something you can weigh until the season and the bottom line with this is you don't want to wait to the end of the season to weigh that out,” O’Shea said. "The job is to go out and win the football game this week.
"We'll figure it out at the end of the year where this game put us . . . Everybody knows it's a shortened season. Everybody knows it's a divisional opponent.
“If the season is longer, does it lessen the importance of playing a divisional opponent? I don't think so. I just know when you're already at Labour Day and we still have a large chunk of the season left, every game is important."
The reality of the game is simple for Riders head coach Craig Dickenson.
“We try to approach it like a normal game," he said. "But we know deep down that it's not a normal game."
The Bombers will get a boost on offence with the return of slotback Nic Demski. He has missed the last two games with a hip injury.
In the two games before the injury Demski had 13 receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown. He's also a presence in the Bombers’ return game.
The Riders are also making a change at receiver as Ricardo Louis replaces Paul McRoberts. The six-foot-two, 215-pound Louis will be making his CFL debut after signing with the Riders in June.
Louis was a 2016 fourth-round pick of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, registering 45 catches for 562 yards in 32 games over two seasons. He missed the 2018 campaign with a neck injury then after signing with the Miami Dolphins suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2019.
Dickenson feels Louis has earned the chance to show what he can do with the Riders.
"It takes time to learn the game and the reality is he came into camp as a first-year CFL player and it's taken all of two months to learn the system, learn the nuances,” said Dickenson. "He's still going to have his moments . . . but we feel like he's put his time in and deserves an chance to go play and show us what he can do."
Dickenson added defensive tackle Micah Johnson (ankle) will be a game-time decision. Dickenson said Johnson has looked all right in practice this week but the team isn't sure if he’s 100 per cent healthy.
Veteran receiver Naaman Roosevelt signed with Winnipeg on Aug. 30 but the former Rider won't be on the Bombers' active roster Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2021.
The Canadian Press