Dynasty in the making Bombers have shot at third consecutive Grey Cup title thanks to full team effort against Lions
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are on the brink of greatness after earning a 28-20 victory over the B.C. Lions in Sunday’s Western final at IG Field.
With the win, Winnipeg has punched its ticket to the 109th Grey Cup in Regina, where they’ll meet the Eastern champion Toronto Argonauts at Mosaic Stadium Sunday evening. The Bombers have won back-to-back league titles and earning a third would put them in rare company — the first CFL club to three-peat since Edmonton won an eye-popping five Grey Cups between the 1978 and 1982 seasons.
Indeed, the Blue and Gold are a dynasty in the making, and this next game is a real chance to cement themselves as one of the greatest teams in league history. For the Bombers to get there, however, it took a full effort from all three phases to knock off the Lions, with the game going down to the final play.
While there will be plenty of excitement building over the next week, let’s take a moment to look back on Sunday’s win over B.C. in the latest instalment of 5 Takeaways.
1) Among the X-factors for the Bombers heading into the game, atop the list was running back Brady Oliveira. Given the snowy and cold weather conditions, there was going to be an added reliance on the run game and the team that could best establish a ground attack would put themselves in a solid position to pull out a win.
Well, as the numbers clearly show, it was Winnipeg that controlled the line of scrimmage and it was Oliveira leading the way for the Blue and Gold. The Winnipeg native, in what is his first year as the starting tailback after the departure of Andrew Harris, had a breakout performance, ending the night with 20 carries for 130 rushing yards, while adding four receptions for another 37 yards through the air, bringing his total to 167 on the day.
While impressive numbers, to be sure, it’s the way in which Oliveira got them that should be leaving people in awe. Oliveira was a wrecking ball throughout the game, registering several yards after contact, and averaging 6.5 yards per run.
On several runs, Oliveira looked exactly the way Harris used to, when he was chewing up yards the last two Grey Cup runs. There’s plenty of praise to go around for Sunday’s rushing performance, including a stellar effort from the offensive line to make holes and receivers who were also key in blocking and creating lanes, but Oliveira proved once and for all he’s capable of taking over a game when it matters most.
2) Bomber fans held their collective breath when star quarterback Zach Collaros pulled up lame with an injured ankle following an awkward tackle on Winnipeg’s second last offensive series. Collaros was quick to tell reporters after the game that he was fine, and when asked by the Free Press if he would be ready to go for Grey Cup, the league’s reigning most outstanding player replied with: “no question.”
Reports then surfaced Monday that there was still no concern over his health for the Grey Cup, but I don’t see how that can be. I fully expect Collaros to play on Sunday, but to suggest this isn’t something to be concerned about feels a bit premature.
The reality is Collaros couldn’t return to the biggest game of the season, at a critical time, when it was a one-score affair. He tried to, with the medical staff going as far as to tape his ankle, but when he took the field and put weight on his leg, his face said it all.
Again, I don’t think it’s a situation like we’ve seen in the past, where the Bombers have brought a mobile emergency room with them to help heal injuries to players like Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler. What will need to be monitored, though, is how close to 100 per cent Collaros is, and what, if any, restrictions he might have.
Perhaps Collaros couldn’t play because of swelling or something else temporary. What we do know is Collaros is the key piece to this puzzle, even if there’s a lot to like from backups Dru Brown and Dakota Prukop.
3) The Bombers defence deserves a ton of credit for how they played, and it was their consistency throughout the game that led to Winnipeg’s victory.
Tasked with stopping budding superstar Nathan Rourke, who was playing in just his second full game since suffering a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot in late August, the Bombers D lived up to their end of the deal. Rourke had been averaging more than 300 passing yards a game, and while he managed to reach that mark on Sunday, he looked nothing like the dominant player he had been all season.
The defence forced four turnovers, including a pair of interceptions, a fumble and a turnover on downs. All came at key moments during the game, shifting momentum back to the Bombers and helping their, at times, struggling offence.
The Lions finished with 313 offensive yards, were 21 per cent on second down (four-for-19) and had next to no success running the ball, with just 11 total carries for 28 yards. A week earlier, in a 30-16 win over a Calgary Stampeders club with a good defence, B.C. had 448 yards of offence, with 112 coming on the ground.
The defence is the heart and soul of the Blue and Gold. They’ve fought through their share of injuries and still show up week in and week out, and there’s no doubt they’ll once again make their presence felt come Grey Cup Sunday.
4) There’s no way around it, because after watching Marc Liegghio miss not one, but two one-point converts Sunday, there’s once again concern hovering over the Bombers kicking game.
Liegghio missed the first one on the Bombers opening-drive touchdown and then shanked another one midway through the third quarter that resulted in the Lions returning it all the way back — 126 yards, to be exact — for two points the other way. It was the first two-point convert kick return in CFL playoff history.
All told, that’s a four-point swing in favour of the Lions, which made it a much more interesting game down the stretch; score those points and the Lions are not making Bomber fans sweat on the final drive. The fact is it didn’t come back to bite Winnipeg, and Liegghio was three-for-three on field goals — hitting from 44, 24 and 16 yards, respectively — but leaving any points off the board is a recipe for disaster.
Head coach Mike O’Shea put his trust behind Liegghio after the game, like he has all season, but this isn’t the first time the Bombers kicker has struggled. I’m sure Winnipeg won’t make a big deal out of it, and that’s the right call, but kicking is now going to be a storyline all week, not exactly an ideal situation for a young guy heading into the most important game of the year.
Liegghio has silenced his critics before, and has had success at Mosaic Stadium, going two-for-two on field goals during the Labour Day Classic, including a critical 55-yarder, and making both his converts. But the stakes and pressure will be much greater this week, with so much more on the line beyond two points in the standings and bragging rights over your prairie rival.
5) If the first quarter was any indication, it looked like it was going to be a rough day for Winnipeg’s special teams. A short time after Liegghio missed his first convert, Bombers kick returner Janarion Grant fumbled a punt that turned into a Lions touchdown one play later.
While Grant could have hung his head, he instead answered back in a big way, opening the second quarter with a 92-yard punt return touchdown. It was Grant’s fourth return TD of the season, and third against the Lions in 2022. It was also the second-longest punt return in Bombers’ playoff history, one yard short of Jason Armstead’s 93-yarder back in 2008.
That Grant was able to answer back the way he did, reflected not only his resilience, but the team as a whole. Under O’Shea’s leadership, this group is as battle-tested as they come, unwilling to allow a mistake, as costly as it might be, to linger in the mind of a player for too long.
We’ve seen plenty of examples of this over the last few years, with perhaps none greater than the Bombers fourth-quarter comeback against Hamilton in the 2022 Grey Cup. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Winnipeg this week, but fans should take solace in the mental strength and commitment each player has to one another, no matter what obstacle is in front of them.
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.