Bombers not a dominant force in 19-12 victory over Redblacks
Club doesn’t appear to be as strong as last season, but still finding ways to win
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OTTAWA — Through the first two weeks of the Canadian Football League season, what’s becoming clear is the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aren’t the same version of themselves from 2021 when they dominated the league en route to claiming a second consecutive Grey Cup title.
But what they have also proven to be is a resilient and scrappy club, and that was once again on full display Friday, resulting in a 19-12 win over the Ottawa Redblacks in front of a rain-drenched crowd of 22,185 at TD Place. It was the second straight victory over the Redblacks to start the 2022 season, leaving the defending back-to-back champions a perfect 2-0 heading into a Week 3 matchup at home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“We can’t rest on our laurels and think last year is who we are,” Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said after the game. “We’re a new team, with new guys here and it’s a new year. The teams across the league are different; nobody cares what you did last year, and we don’t either. We got to find our identity and who we are this year. We have standards and a bar that we’ve set, and we haven’t even come close to meeting them yet.”
The Redblacks fall to 0-2 on the season, which is a disappointing fate for a club that pushed the Bombers right to the edge in both games. Much like the Bombers aren’t the same club from a year ago, neither are the Redblacks, who look nothing like the 3-11 club from 2021.
Getting close is of little consolation in a league where it’s difficult to win, and the Bombers will take the points any way they can, no matter how they do it. Even if they were outplayed for stretches.
“It was probably a tough quarter-and-a-half, but then we had a drive at the end of the (opening) half and I thought we moved the ball pretty well in the second half and scored the points we needed to score,” coach Mike O’Shea said. “Defence had some clutch stops… finishing strong is a good start right now and we’ll get the rest of it figured out as we go along.”
It was another rough start for the Bombers, who despite struggling to move the ball downfield entered halftime trailing by just two points, 9-7.
Winnipeg stumbled out of the gate with a pair of two-and-outs on their first two drives, finishing the opening 15 minutes with just two first downs — both the result of penalties by the Redblacks. To put it another way, the best play of the opening quarter for the Bombers was a 32-yard catch by Dalton Schoen that was called back after Geoff Gray was penalized for holding.
It was much of the same for the visitors to start the second quarter. With the Bombers showing some life following a 32-yard pass to Drew Wolitarsky, moving the ball to Ottawa’s 38-yard line, only for quarterback Zach Collaros to give the ball right back on the next play with an interception by Money Hunter.
The Redblacks were moving the ball downfield with relative ease, finishing with 265 yards of offence, including 225 passing yards from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli by halftime.
While the chains kept moving, and the Bombers defence kept bending, they ultimately wouldn’t break, leaving the Redblacks to settle for three field goals by Lewis Ward. Ward also missed a 37-yard attempt late in the first quarter.
“Nobody on the defence wants to be bend-but-don’t-break,” added O’Shea. “To a man, they want to smash them, they want to smash them from the get-go and hold them to nothing. Second-best is not allowing them to score points.”
The Bombers managed to salvage the first half with a touchdown drive on their final series. Collaros connected with Greg Ellingson for the 13-yard score, giving the Bombers prized free-agent a touchdown in back-to-back weeks.
The drive accounted for 71 of the Bombers’ 139 offensive yards in the half. Winnipeg would get two cracks at the two-point convert, including a QB sneak from two yards out on the second attempt, but would leave with no points.
Winnipeg’s offence carried that momentum into the second half, but like Ottawa early in the game, suffered from a case of the field goals.
The Bombers had to settle for six points through their first two drives of the half, earning their first lead of the game with a 31-yard kick by Marc Liegghio minutes into the third quarter. Winnipeg made it 13-9 after Liegghio connected on a 22-yard boot, but the Bombers left points on the field after Ellingson dropped a pass while wide-open in the end zone.
After the Redblacks cut the game to 13-12 with Ward’s fourth field goal, this time from 38 yards out, Ottawa looked primed to take the lead on their next drive.
Facing a strong and swirling wind, and with the rain pouring down, Masoli calmly led the home side down the field before setting up a third-and-short at Winnipeg’s 17-yard line. But Masoli fumbled on the QB sneak, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Bombers would make them pay for the error, with Collaros orchestrating a 10-play, 89-yard touchdown drive to give the visitors some breathing room. Schoen capped the series with a 27-yard score, marking his first CFL touchdown in his second career game.
“We certainly need to do a better job of establishing ourselves earlier in the game,” Collaros said. “Our defence played an unbelievable game tonight, holding them to field goals and keeping us in the game. I certainly can do a better job of getting the ball out of my hands on time and seeing the defence and what they’re trying to do better.”
Collaros, who finished 15-for-22 passing for 228 yards and two touchdowns, along with the interception, opened the drive with a 30-yard pass to Ellingson. The run game, which at that point had been mostly non-existent, also chipped in, with Johnny Augustine, Brady Oliveira and Nic Demski combining for 24 yards on the series.
Not to be outdone, Masoli, who ended his night completing 27-of-38 passes for 331 yards, responded by putting the Redblacks in a position to tie the game with fewer than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But like the Bombers did in last week’s win, they stood tall in the final stages of the game, forcing another turnover on downs.
And just as Ottawa was about to get the ball back for one more possession, a penalty by Redblacks Adam Auclair for roughing Liegghio on a punt ultimately sealed the game.
“There’s frustration on our side because we know we can be a lot better,” Bighill said. “But that’s the great thing is we know it’s there.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Friday, June 17, 2022 11:12 PM CDT: adds pics