Bombers survive frantic finish

Battle of the Unbeaten lives up to its billing — and then some

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The Battle of the Unbeaten certainly lived up to its name. And then some.

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The Battle of the Unbeaten certainly lived up to its name. And then some.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders met for their Week 6 matchup at IG Field Friday night with a combined record of 9-0, with the Blue and Gold a perfect 5-0 and the Stampeders at a sparkling 4-0. And what unfolded was a classic, as they often are between these two West Division rivals.

Once the dust settled, it would be the reigning back-to-back Grey Cup champion Bombers that ended up in the winner’s circle, surviving a frantic final minute that required a lengthy review from the CFL’s command centre to earn a 26-19 victory. The Bombers improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1960, and now have a four-point lead on the Stampeders, who dropped to 4-1, for top spot in the West Division.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros reads the Calgary Stampeders defence prior to the snap at IG field in Winnipeg Friday.

In the last eight meetings between these two teams, all have been decided in the final three minutes, with six of those decided by a touchdown or less. The Stampeders have lost five straight at IG Field.

“I would like to see the beer sales. I hope there’s some left when I get back to the room,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said after the game. “I’m sure the guys will enjoy this one tonight. They should.”

Indeed, it was certainly a treat for the 29,746 that attended. With Winnipeg clinging to its seven-point lead, Calgary had one last chance to stage a comeback with 1:25 left on the clock.

The Stampeders managed to survive a third-and-13 on their own 53-yard line with a 13-yard run by Ka’Deem Carey. Another 15 yards were tacked onto the play – owing to a roughing the passer penalty by Jackson Jeffcoat – setting the visitors up at Winnipeg’s 29.

On the very next play, Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell reached for the endzone, finding an open Kamar Jorden. But just when it looked like Jorden reeled the ball in for the score, it started to bobble in his hands as his body fell to the turf.

In a last-ditch effort to salvage the play, Jorden mistakenly popped the ball up into the air where it was scooped by Bombers defensive back Demerio Houston for a game-sealing interception.

“I saw the ball pop up and said, ‘I gotta get this,’” said Houston, who was making his third start at boundary-side corner, following the release of veteran Tyquwan Glass earlier this month.

Rookie receiver Carlton Agudosi, making his first CFL start after spending the last year on the Bombers practice roster, in for an injured Brendan O’Leary-Orange, also stole the show for Winnipeg. The 28-year-old New Jersey native reeled in six of seven targets for 70 yards and two touchdowns, including a score with under four minutes remaining that proved to be the game-winning drive.

Agudosi ended the Bombers 10-play, 65-yard drive by beating Calgary’s Trumaine Washington in the far-right corner of the end zone for a 10-yard TD. Running back Brady Oliveira, who had a quiet night, registering just eight yards on nine carries, set up the score by converting on second-and-12 with a 12-yard catch that was originally ruled short of a first down, only to be reversed by the command centre.

“It was amazing – I’m on Cloud 9,” Agudosi said. “Enjoy it tonight and then move on.”

Greg Ellingson was also unstoppable in this one, leading all receivers with 11 catches for 152 yards. Quarterback Zach Collaros was 27-for-38 passing for 315 yards and two TDs, as the offence combined for 334 net yards. Calgary finished with 277 yards, limiting Mitchell to just 187 yards through the air and one score, along with the final interception.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Carlton Agudosi scores a touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders at IG Field in Winnipeg, on Friday.

Rene Parades hit his second field goal of the evening, connecting from 39 yards out, to tie the game, 13-13, at halftime. Parades also made good on a 50-yard boot earlier in the second quarter to put the Stampeders up 10-6.

The game-tying kick before the break came after a failed punt attempt by Marc Liegghio, who was pressured and forced to take off with his feet, only to fall short for a turnover on downs at Winnipeg’s 42. It was the second costly turnover for the Bombers in the first half, with a fumbled punt return by Janarion Grant at Winnipeg’s 20 leading to a Calgary touchdown one play later – with Mitchell hitting Reggie Begelton for the score and a 7-3 edge late in the first frame.

“It was hard-fought, as it always is with Calgary. I’m really happy to get out of here with a win. There’s still lots to clean up. We’ll watch (the film) tomorrow critically, but we’re going to enjoy tonight,” Collaros said. “But I can’t say enough about the atmosphere here that our fans brought tonight. That was just so much fun.”

The Bombers had just wrestled away momentum from Calgary prior to tying the game at half, putting together an eight-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Agudosi. Agudosi used every inch of his 6-6, 220-pound frame to steal the ball from Calgary defensive back Tre Roberson.

It was Winnipeg’s first lead of the game since Liegghio hit a 50-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive. Liegghio finished the half two-for-two, also connecting from 17 yards. He missed the one-point convert on Agudosi’s second TD, keeping it a seven-point game down the final stretch.

After swapping two-and-outs to open the third quarter, Calgary took the lead 16-13 with another Parades field, this time a chip-shot from 14 yards.

It was a tough end to a drive that went 92 yards on six plays, including a 45-yard reception to Begelton and a 29-yard run by Carey. But credit to the Bombers defence for breaking up a pair of passes and stalling Calgary on the seven-yard line.

“They keep playing lights out all year,” Collaros said of the defence. “They rose to the occasion here tonight.”

The disappointment for Calgary would continue for the remainder of the third quarter.

Winnipeg rallied after the field goal to score their second touchdown of the game. No. 2 pivot Dru Brown punch in a one-yard QB sneak, putting an exclamation mark on an 11-play, 62-yard drive that put the Bombers back up, 20-16.

What felt like a little bit of Deja-vu, the Stampeders replied with another long drive, moving the ball once again to the Bombers doorstep. But the Winnipeg defence, as they’ve often done, shut the door, forcing a turnover on downs on its own two-yard line.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Blue Bombers’ Janarion Grant gets set to return a kick against the Stampeders last month.

After gaining just two yards on first-and-goal from the Bombers’ 4, the Stampeders opted, incredibly, to throw the ball twice.

The first toss came from No. 2 quarterback Tommy Stevens, who whiffed a pass to Begelton. With Mitchell back in, he went back to Begelton a second time, but it was broken up after Begelton collided with fellow receiver Malik Henry in the end zone.

“That was pretty fantastic,” O’Shea said of the goal-line stands by the defence. “You’ve got two very good football teams going at it and it was certainly a defensive struggle in that first half. And then things opened up in the second.”

The football gods kept smiling on the Bombers in the fourth quarter, wiping out a 63-yard punt return by Peyton Logan. Stampeders fullback Charlie Power negated the score with a holding penalty on the return.

That set up the late-game fireworks, with the Bombers once again able to find a way to win. They’ll take their 6-0 record to Edmonton next Friday for a Week 7 matchup with the 2-4 Elks.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

History

Updated on Saturday, July 16, 2022 12:04 AM CDT: Adds quotes

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