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Regina Rams Football

Friday, September 9, 2016

SMITH READY TO FACE ROUGHRIDERS

WINNIPEG - Matt Nichols will have a new receiver to pass to in Saturday's game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders as slotback Ryan Smith comes off the six-game injured list in time to play his former team.

Nichols is excited to have a new target on the field as he tries to extend Winnipeg's five-game win streak, which coincides with him taking over the starting quarterback job from Drew Willy.

"He was out there blowing past people the last couple days of practice,'' Nichols said Friday of Smith, who had been out with a lower-body injury.

"He's a guy that can really stretch defences. One of the best things he does is, get the ball in his hands, he can break tackles, make people miss in space. That's something that really can flip games in this league.''

Smith was a big free-agent signing for the Bombers (6-4), who had already inked his former Riders teammate Weston Dressler.

Expectations for the duo were high entering the season but both have missed time because of injuries. Saturday's game will only be their fourth time playing together in Bombers jerseys.

"All that matters right now is that we're both healthy and we're both back on the field,'' Smith said.

Smith started his career with the Riders in 2014. He was healthy enough to play in Winnipeg's 28-25 win over Saskatchewan (1-9) last weekend, but salary-cap reasons kept him sidelined until the six games were up.

He's OK with being back for the rematch at the 33,234-seat Investors Group Field, which will host the 12th straight Banjo Bowl sellout.

"It's going to be an electric atmosphere here,'' said Smith, who has 19 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown in four games. "You couldn't ask for a better way to come back and play a football game.''

Smith takes the roster spot of Clarence Denmark. Head coach Mike O'Shea said he decided to keep the physical six-foot-two slotback Gerard Sheppard in the lineup.

Winnipeg hasn't put up an in-season six-game win streak since 2001, but did reel off six victories in a row over the 2002-03 seasons.

It also hasn't won the double-header Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl games since the first year the bowl game began in 2004.

The Bombers' victory on Sunday was also the club's first in Regina since 2004.

"As a team, we left a whole lot of plays out there,'' Saskatchewan's Kendial Lawrence said of the close game, which was won on a Winnipeg field goal as time expired.

"We felt like it didn't really have to be that close if we just complete those plays and just do the little things right.''

There was also a controversial pass interference call on the Riders during Winnipeg's winning drive.

"It's water under the bridge,'' Saskatchewan head coach Chris Jones said. "That one play, it certainly hurts, but at the same time there was plenty of opportunities for us to win that football (game) prior to that play.''

Notes: Nichols has only thrown one interception in 162 pass attempts and none in his last 89 ... Saskatchewan hasn't scored a point in the first quarter of its past four games, getting outscored 43-0 ... The Riders haven't held a lead any time during their past four games ... Saskatchewan is 5-29 in its last 34 games and has used eight quarterbacks during that span.

(Canadian Press)

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