Schoen shines in Bombers victory

Defence stands tall as Big Blue remain perfect


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EDMONTON — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers put forth an imperfect effort against the Edmonton Elks, getting dominated in nearly every aspect of the game except for where it counts.

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EDMONTON — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers put forth an imperfect effort against the Edmonton Elks, getting dominated in nearly every aspect of the game except for where it counts.

Indeed, the Bombers were outmatched in several areas — number of plays (69-39), first downs (23-12), and time of possession (37:14 to 22:46), to name a few — but found a way to win on the scoreboard, earning a 24-10 victory over the Elks Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium. The Bombers remain perfect on the season, improving to 7-0 on the year, maintaining their place in top spot in the West Division.

“We did enough to win,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said after the game.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson Winnipeg Blue Bombers celebrate a touchdown against the Edmonton Elks during the first half in Edmonton.

“I thought the defence was pretty darn good again. They played a lot of snaps but holding them to 10 points is pretty good. We scored on offence, had a really nice long drive when we needed it in the fourth. It gave the defence a bit of a rest, ended with a touchdown. Overall, very, very pleased. Very pleased.”

The Elks dropped to 2-5 with the loss, adding to a franchise-record 11th consecutive defeat at home. The CFL record for longest losing streak on home turf is 14 games, set by the Ottawa Rough Riders between the 1987 and 1988 seasons.

The story of the game was the Bombers defence, a unit that limited the Elks to three field goals and a single point, keeping them out of the end zone. Edmonton scored just four points in the second half and ended the game with a back-to-back turnover on downs.

Edmonton also edged Winnipeg in offensive yards, 321 to 272. Edmonton’s Taylor Cornelius was 25-for-42 passing for 270 yards and one interception, while Zach Collaros went 7-for-16 for 188 passing yards, with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions.

“We gave up field goals. That’s important,” said Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill, who finished with six defensive tackles, including a sack for seven yards.

“We’re on the field longer than we want. We got to second-and-medium and second-and-short a little too much. But we made plays and kept them out of the end zone. We were stingy. They did a good job kind of taking some of the holes that we had, but overall I thought we played aggressive, got after the quarterback, moved him out of the pocket a lot. The points on the board were critical.”

Neither team could get the running game going, with the Elks earning the edge in that category, 87 yards to 86. Brady Oliveira paced the Bombers with 62 yards — his best game-total in 2022 — and Cornelius led the Elks 15 carries for 59 yards.

Kenny Lawler, playing in his first game against Winnipeg since signing with Edmonton as a free agent in February, had seven catches for 98 yards. Rookie Dalton Schoen led the Bombers with four catches for 146 yards and a touchdown. Only three Bombers receivers recorded a catch, with Rasheed Bailey and Drew Wolitarsky also reeling in catches.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson Winnipeg Blue Bombers Rasheed Bailey (88) is surrounded by Edmonton Elks during first half CFL action in Edmonton, on Friday.

But as stale as the Bombers offence was at times, they were able to find ways to score points and steal momentum away from the Elks.

“I don’t know what the final numbers were, but we won the game, so we’re happy about that,” Collaros said. “We have to do a lot better offensively, stay on the field, be more efficient on first down, convert on second down, not turn the football over — all those things.”

The Bombers defence wasted little time having its presence felt, with Deatrick Nichols intercepting Cornelius on the Elks first drive. The throw was deflected by defensive end Malik Clements, who earned the start after Jackson Jeffcoat was sidelined with a hip issue.

Winnipeg needed just one shot to turn the takeaway into points. Collaros connected with Rasheed Bailey in the end zone on the very next play, the 26-yard touchdown giving the Bombers a 7-0 lead fewer than five minutes into the first quarter.

Bailey was a significant storyline heading into the game, with the Bombers veteran receiver hauling limited to just 18 passes for 166 yards. With Greg Ellingson (hip) out of the lineup, Bailey needed to step up, and the touchdown — his first of the season — should help bolster his case to stay in the lineup once the roster is fully healthy.

From there, it was the Elks who would dictate much of the play through the first half, despite trailing 17-6 at halftime. Credit belongs to the Bombers defence, who stalled drives with five sacks through two quarters and limited the Elks to a pair of field goals — from 52 and 44 yards by former Bomber Sergio Castillo.

The Bombers offence struggled to move the ball after the opening drive but came to life just before the break. With fewer than two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Collaros stretched the field with a deep pass to Schoen, who caught the ball at the Elks 40-yard line and then danced around Duron Carter for his fourth touchdown of the year.

Schoen’s 81 yard touchdown accounted for a large chunk of the Bombers 182 total yards through the first half, and more than half of Collaros’ 158 passing yards, which were registered on just four completions. The Elks had more than double the plays (37-16) and time of possession (20:40 to 9:20) and had three times more first downs (12 to 4).

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros went 7-for-16 for 188 passing yards, with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions against the Elks.

“We had some explosion plays on offence, but when the yards don’t equate to points it equals a big time of possession,” O’Shea said. “But I don’t know, show me a stat where that means winning. I don’t know that it does.”

The Elks regained momentum back on the opening drive of the second half, a series that travelled 61 yards and lasted more than seven minutes. But the Bombers, like they’ve done all season, kept their opponent out of the end zone, the Elks once against settling for a field goal, this one from 27 yards, to cut Winnipeg’s lead to 17-9.

Castillo was in position add three more points on the Elks second drive of the third quarter, another lengthy series, but his 48-yard attempt fell just short, resulting in a single point for a dead ball in the end zone. The Bombers had just six plays in the third quarter and possessed the ball for fewer than three minutes in the frame.

Winnipeg would give the ball back on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Collaros, in an attempt to find Schoen again deep, had his underthrown pass intercepted by Carter. The Bombers defence once again stood tall, forcing a punt by the Elks to keep it a one-score game.

Collaros entered the game with a streak of 82 pass attempts without an interception, but he was picked off twice by his 12th attempt Friday.

The Bombers offence would find a way to tilt the game in their favour down the stretch, with a little help from the Elks lack of discipline. Taking over the ball with 12:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, Winnipeg ran six plays before sending out the punt unit.

But just as Marc Liegghio delivered the boot, Elks defensive lineman Makana Henry collided with Liegghio, drawing a roughing-the-kicker penalty and giving the Bombers a new set of downs. Winnipeg would make it count, capping off the 15-play, 62-yard drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown from No. 2 quarterback Dru Brown.

“I thought our offence did a good job of using the clock,” O’Shea said. “I thought we were able to utilize a bunch of different sets and formations and move the ball. Nine minutes certainly helps; it allows our defence to get fresh again on the sideline.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson Blue Bombers’ Jake Thomas sacks Edmonton Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius during the first half Friday.

Perhaps most important, beyond the score giving the Bombers some wiggle room, 24-10, was the series lasted nine minutes and 26 seconds. The Elks got the ball back with 2:35 remaining but as was the case all game, the defence came up big. 

The Bombers are back on the road next week, facing the Calgary Stampeders (4-1) Saturday night in the second of three straight road games. The Stamps are coming off the bye week, after falling to the Bombers, 26-19, in Week 6. 

“The schedule has been gruelling. The short turnarounds for games… now Western opponents here on a good stretch,” Bighill said. “Yeah, it’s going to be a great rematch. We know they’re going to come hungry for it and we just got to go back, watch the film, keep tidying things up and go out there and lay it on the line there. Just go 1-0 everyone.”

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.


Updated on Saturday, July 23, 2022 12:07 AM CDT: Updated write through with quotes

Updated on Saturday, July 23, 2022 10:46 AM CDT: Fixes typos

Updated on Saturday, July 23, 2022 12:18 PM CDT: minor copy edit

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