January 23, 2020

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Defence for the win

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Brandon Alexander tackles Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Jaelon Acklin during the second half of the 107th Grey Cup. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Brandon Alexander tackles Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Jaelon Acklin during the second half of the 107th Grey Cup. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

CALGARY — Turns out, defence really does win championships.

How else to explain what co-ordinator Richie Hall's group was able to do not only on Sunday night in the Grey Cup, but in the two playoff games prior to it. The Bombers surrendered 14, 13 and 12 points in their victories over Calgary, Saskatchewan and Hamilton.

Holding three quality CFL opponents to 39 points is remarkable. And the taming of the Tiger-Cats was one for the ages. Winnipeg forced a whopping seven turnovers, including two interceptions by quarterback Dane Evans, three fumbles and three stops on third down, including a couple when the game was still very much up for grabs.

"Really excited for our players. For them to play so well in the game that mattered most. They're not going to have any regrets, going over plays they wish they had. Winning helps that anyway. But they just really played very very well. I'm excited for them," said coach Mike O'Shea.

Just look at how the game started, with Brandon Alexander picking off Evans' first pass attempt of the day, then Willie Jefferson sacking and stripping Evans of the ball later in the quarter, which was recovered by Adam Bighill.

One play later, Andrew Harris ran it in for a touchdown and the Bombers were off to the races.

"Unreal. Guys were amazing today. They've been working so hard all year. And their hard work paid off," said Harris, who was dominating on the other side of the ball for the Bombers.

Winnipeg's defence was massive in the West Final, when they stopped the Roughriders on two late possessions from their one-yard line with the score at 20-13. And they stepped up the intensity and the physicality with the stakes even higher, including knocking Most Outstanding Player Brandon Banks out of the game in the third quarter with a huge Mike Jones hit.

"This run through the playoffs, (Hall and the other coaches) planning was exceptional. And they were spot-on with it and how we were going to win games. Defensively, as players, they were faced with a challenge eight, nine whatever weeks ago it was. And they accepted the challenge, which was if you want to be champions you've got to put them on your back. And live that mantra that defence wins championships," said O'Shea.

One scribe suggested that it looked like the Bombers had a dozen O'Shea's on the field, an ode to his former playing days as a linebacker. O'Shea quickly shot that down.

"I wouldn't make this team," he said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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