The Winnipeg Blue Bombers injected a major dose of optimism into their season with a nail-biting 29-28 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Friday at IG Field.
The Bombers had lost four of their past five games, eliminating any chance to enter the postseason on a notable run. Instead, they’ll settle for wrapping up the regular season on a high note; the win over the Stampeders rounded out their record to 11-7.
Now, the Bombers wait. They are out of action this week because of the bye and must wait till this weekend to find out where they fit in the West Division standings.
With that, here are five takeaways from Friday’s win:
1) There were plenty of questions about Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, who made his Blue and Gold debut because Chris Streveler was put on the shelf with an ankle injury.
Collaros was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Argonauts two weeks ago. He joined the Bombers just minutes before the CFL’s trade deadline was set to expire. He was brought in for his experience; the 31-year-old has started more than 70 games during his eight seasons in the league. It was hoped he could also ignite the passing attack, an element of the team’s offence that was lacking under Streveler.
But there were concerns about his health. Collaros hadn’t taken a live snap in 114 days since suffering a concussion in Week 1 while still with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. There was also concern he’d be rusty because of his time away, and how he would work under a new playbook.
Collaros provided some positive answers, even if his stats didn’t jump off the page. He finished the night 22-for-28 passing (79 per cent) for a modest 221 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and one interception.
Collaros looked poised in the pocket and proved capable of taking a good hit, evident by him getting up from a nasty collision with Calgary’s Wynton McManis in the second quarter. And the night couldn’t have been scripted any better, with Collaros leading the offence down field to set up a game-winning, 34-yard boot from Justin Medlock.
2) Of all the moments Collaros looked like a bona-fide starter on Friday, it was a play midway through the fourth quarter that should cement his place as the No. 1 pivot heading into the playoffs.
Trailing 28-19 and facing second-and-7 on the Stampeders’ 8, Collaros was forced out the pocket, pushed back to the 25-yard line, before delivering a dart on the run.
Waiting in the back-right corner of the end zone was Darvin Adams, who, while keeping his tippy toes in bounds, reeled in the catch to cut Calgary’s lead to two points.
Simply put, we haven’t seen that kind of play from a quarterback in these parts for some time. Streveler isn’t capable of such a throw and Matt Nichols — who isn’t nearly as mobile — had he faced the same situation, would have undoubtedly thrown it away to preserve the chance for a field goal.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, when asked to declare a starter for the playoffs, predictably balked. After all, there’s still plenty of time before the West semifinal Nov. 10 and O’Shea has never been one to tip his hand.
But if this comments were anything beyond gamesmanship, if Collaros isn’t the guy tasked with leading this team to a Grey Cup with Streveler back in his role as the short-yardage QB, then the Bombers don’t deserve to win. And they won’t.
3) While it certainly wasn’t an overly memorable performance, the Bombers defence was a much better outfit than they were a week before, in a 37-33 loss in Calgary.
Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was still in fine form, making it look easy at times en route to passing for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Hergy Mayala and Eric Rogers both found the end zone twice, and Reggie Begelton, who scored three touchdowns a week before, led Calgary with 98 receiving yards on five catches.
But the defence came up big when it mattered most, including shutting out Mitchell and Co. in the fourth quarter. Adam Bighill had one of his best performances in a while, recording a team-high seven defensive tackles and was responsible for the Bombers’ lone sack. Willie Jefferson, who went without a stat in Calgary, recorded his 16th pass knockdown, giving him the most in a single season by a defensive lineman in CFL history.
Calgary’s run game was almost non-existent, totalling just 45 yards. And while Mitchell was able to sustain some lengthy series – including a game-opening 12-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that milked 7:15 off the clock – he had seven scoreless drives that went five plays or fewer.
That’s about as much as one can ask for against a Stampeders club that has made the Grey Cup four of the last five years, winning twice, including in 2018.
4) No loss is easy to swallow, but Calgary must be feeling a special sting after this one.
First off, a win would have kept the Stampeders in the driver’s seat in their journey for first in the West.
With the Saskatchewan Roughriders defeating the Edmonton Eskimos Saturday, Calgary now has to beat the B.C. Lions on the road this week just to keep that dream alive. A loss to B.C., however, would bump them down to third place, moving the Bombers up to second, meaning the Stampeders would have to travel to Winnipeg for the West semifinal.
But the worst part about Friday’s loss for the Stampeders was that it was self-inflicted, with a couple of different instances surely to haunt the post-game video sessions. It will be particularly tough for kicker Rene Parades to watch.
Parades, who is usually as sure-footed as any in the CFL, missed a 47-yard field goal attempt and then choked again on a one-point convert. Janarion Grant, the Bombers speedy returner, made him pay on both.
Grant returned the missed field goal back 61 yards to midfield, and the Bombers capitalized on the ensuing drive, capped off with a three-yard touchdown run from Nic Demski. Grant would go the distance on the missed convert, scampering 122 yards to Calgary’s end zone to give the Bombers two points back on the scoreboard.
Not exactly the mistake-free football we’re used to seeing from the defending Grey Cup champs.
5) With the fifth and final takeaway, I leave you with a few thoughts.
It’s been unusual to see Medlock at or near the bottom among kickers in field goal percentage for much of the year, even if he does attempt more boots over 50 yards than most. But the 36-year-old, commonly referred to as "Money Medlock", has cashed in over his last five games.
He went 2-for-2 against the Stampeders, including the game sealing 34-yarder, which brings Medlock to a perfect 12-for-12 dating back to Sept. 27. If anyone is feeling it on the Bombers, it’s Medlock.
Finally, I had no problem with the hit Collaros took from McManis, nor did I see an issue with the knock Mercy Maston laid on Begelton. My concern is Maston was flagged for the headshot and McManis wasn’t. There’s still no consistency among CFL officials on what constitutes a blow the head.
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.