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Bombers rally late to beat Alouettes 35-20

Win improves Winnipeg’s record to 9-0

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MONTREAL – It won’t go down as a classic, but make no mistake, what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers achieved Thursday night in Montreal is nothing short of impressive.

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MONTREAL – It won’t go down as a classic, but make no mistake, what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers achieved Thursday night in Montreal is nothing short of impressive.

Running on fumes after eight straight weeks of action, playing their third straight road game and second over the span of six days, the Bombers walked into Molson Stadium a banged up and tired group. They would leave a resilient one, rallying late to earn a convincing 35-20 win over the Alouettes.

“That’s as tough a situation as our guys have been in, and full marks to Montreal – they took the ball away early and often and our guys just kept grinding and digging,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said after the game. “Then the defence started taking the ball away a little bit and making plays. That’s a really good one.”

The win improved the Bombers to 9-0, keeping their perfect record intact at the midway mark of the season. What’s more, six of those wins have come on the road, with Winnipeg still waiting for its Week 11 bye.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Brady Oliveira catches a pass in front of Montreal Alouettes linebacker Tyrice Beverette during the second quarter. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

The Alouettes dropped to 2-6 with the loss and are now 1-3 since firing head coach Khari Jones and defensive co-ordinator Barron Miles after Week 4.

It was a tight affair until the final stretch. Tied 14-14 after three quarters, Winnipeg exploded for 21 points on three touchdowns in the final three minutes. Dakota Prukop punched in a one-yard quarterback sneak to end a nine-play, 95-yard series that also saw a 41-yard gain on a pass from Zach Collaros to Drew Wolitarsky. Janarion Grant then doubled the Bombers lead to 28-14 with a 57-yard punt-return touchdown, cutting through the middle of the field for his second score of the year.

The Alouettes added one of their own, a 20-yard catch from Reggie White Jr., in the final seconds with the game already out of reach.

“It was a wild game, a dog fight,” Bombers running back Brady Oliveira said. “We know every team is going to bring their A game when they play us. And the fact that all three phases were clicking tonight… and when you do that, you’ll be in great shape to win a football game.”

It wasn’t all clean. Collaros finished the game 15-for-26 passing for 210 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, while also committing a fumble. The offence finished with 336 net offensive yards, while the defence limited quarterback Trevor Harris and the Alouettes offence to 236 yards, while also sacking Harris three times and forcing three turnovers.

Zach Collaros finished the game 15-for-26 passing for 210 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

It was a defensive effort through the first quarter, with the only points scored coming off a 24-yard field goal by David Cote that put the Alouettes up 3-0. The field goal was set up by a Collaros interception that found the hands of Wesley Sutton on just the second play of the game.

The Alouettes were in a prime position to add to that lead following another Collaros turnover – this time a forced fumble by Adarius Pickett that was scooped by Nick Usher – but the Bombers defence came up big when it mattered most.

Facing a third-and-three from Winnipeg’s six, Montreal opted to gamble, with Harris delivering a pass to Eugene Lewis near the back-right corner of the endzone. Lewis would reel in the ball, but his feet landed out of bounds, resulting in a turnover on downs.

“Our defence is real tough. We’re real critical on ourselves and when we get the opportunity to make plays like that, we take it real personally and we take it real serious,” Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “And when it comes to the league, when they see us make those kinds of stops, it lets them know we ready for third-and-whatever.”

The Bombers offence would take the opportunity to join the party, orchestrating an eight-play, 104-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing series, capped off with a five-yard score from Collaros to rookie Dalton Schoen. It was Schoen’s league-leading seventh receiving touchdown of the year, giving the visitors the lead, 7-3.

Rasheed Bailey is congratulated after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

The drive lasted four minutes and 41 seconds, providing the Bombers defence a much-needed break on what was a hot and humid night. The touchdown was aided by a 35-yard pass to Oliveira, as well as a defensive pass-interference call drawn by Rasheed Bailey that moved the ball 33 yards, to Montreal’s five.

Prior to the touchdown, the Bombers had recorded just two first downs and 13 net yards of offence on 10 offensive plays. Montreal had also dominated time of possession, 11:02 to 6:19.

“The guys found a way to give a little more, which is damn good,” O’Shea said. “For them to be able to give more like that is pretty special.”

Winnipeg threatened to add to its lead before halftime, but what looked like a promising drive ended with yet another interception by Collaros. Najee Murray, who grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, the same small town as Collaros, came up with the pick, leaving the Bombers with a 7-3 edge at the break.

The Alouettes would eat into the Bombers lead early into the second half, adding another Cote field goal from 49 yards out to make it 7-6 for the visitors. And just like the opening two quarters, the Bombers replied with a touchdown.

Collaros connected with Bailey for a five-yard score, the final play of an 11-play, 70-yard drive to make it a 14-6 game. The Bombers looked like they would have to settle for a 19-yard field goal on the series, but an illegal interference call on Alouettes defensive lineman Mike Moore moved the chains, giving the Bombers a new set of downs from the Alouettes’ five.

Janarion Grant leaps to avoid a tackle from Montreal Alouettes linebacker Brian Harelimana. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

Those additional points would prove critical, as the Alouettes found the end zone for the first time of the night on the next drive. After a solid kickoff return by Tyson Philpot that travelled 60 yards, it would take just three plays for Montreal to find paydirt. A successful two-point convert run by Davis evened the game, 14-14, heading into the fourth quarter.

Montreal got the first crack to take the lead, on what would have been another 49-yard field goal by Cote, but the attempt was spoiled after the ball ricocheted off the right upright, and wide.

In what’s been a theme all season, while their opponents settle for field goals, the Bombers find ways to get into the end zone. Another common occurrence is Winnipeg’s dominance in the fourth quarter.

The Bombers exploded for a pair of touchdowns over a span of two minutes and 26 seconds to put the game out of reach. Then added a third to put an exclamation mark on the win.

That sets the stage for a rematch next week, with the two clubs meeting on Thursday at IG Field.

“We’re expecting the same kind of football,” said Jefferson. “We know they’re going to try and get us back for beating them at home. It’s going to be a tough game.”

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 Thursday, August 4, 2022 11:50 PM CDT: Tweaks headline

Updated on Friday, August 5, 2022 9:33 AM CDT: Minor copy edit

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