It was one of the most dominant performances in Winnipeg Blue Bombers history.
The Bombers pitched only their second shutout since 2006 Saturday night as they handed the B.C. Lions a 45-0 thumping in front of an announced crowd of 23,750 at IG Field. The last time the Blue and Gold kept an opponent off the scoreboard was Oct. 13, 2018 when they whupped the Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-0 at home.
"We’re relentless, disciplined and we play as a team," said defensive end Willie Jefferson.
"We play together as one, not as 12 individuals. We stick to our process. We liked our preparation coming into this game, coming into any game. The film study that we put in, as a defence, the time and the effort that we put into getting things right in practice, and then just the extra stuff that we do as a whole. It all comes together when we come out and play football like this."
More importantly than blanking the Lions, the win clinched the West Division crown for the Bombers, now 10-1. The road to the Grey Cup in Hamilton goes through Winnipeg as the West Division final will be played at IG Field on Dec. 5. Most impressive of all, the Bombers secured the No. 1 seed with three regular-season games left on the schedule.
It’s the first time the Bombers have won a division title since their 2011 team grabbed the top spot in the East. The Bombers, who have changed divisions several times over the years, haven’t hosted a West final since 1972.
The Lions drop to 4-6 and have lost four straight.
"It’s important for the fans. I think it’s going to be good for them and therefore good for our team," said head coach Mike O’Shea.
"I think our players understand that playing in front of our home crowd is pretty special. So, it’s important. In terms of us clinching, it’s not anything we really talked about or was a goal from the beginning. It just added up that way. When the players believe in and stick to the process and focus on the immediate task at hand every single day, they have a good chance for success. So far, this year, that success has added up."
The Bombers used the same formula Saturday they have all season: the defence kicked butt and the offence got nearly everyone involved. Quarterback Zach Collaros was rock-solid as he connected on 16 of 20 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns before Sean McGuire relieved him in the fourth quarter. The top weapon was Darvin Adams, who was coming off a three-week stretch where he had only four catches for 40 yards, as the 31-year-old receiver hauled in four passes for 93 yards. Kenny Lawler was held to 19 receiving yards and two catches but he made the most of them, as both were for touchdowns.
The Lions could muster only 199 yards of offence compared to a Bombers side that exploded for 424. It was a rough game for B.C. quarterback Michael Reilly who was sacked by Jackson Jeffcoat twice, Steven Richardson and Casey Sayles. Reilly threw for 131 yards, completing 15 of 31 attempts. It’s the third straight game where he’s failed to pass for 200 yards.
Jeffcoat leads the CFL with nine sacks on the year.
The Bombers jumped out to a lead in the first quarter as punt returner Janarion Grant had a 32-yard return to put Winnipeg deep into enemy territory. Three plays later, Collaros hit Lawler in the front corner of the end zone from 14 yards out to give the Blue and Gold the lead just over five minutes into the game. Lawler, who torched the Lions in Week 9 for 12 catches, 205 yards, and a score, was slow to get up after the catch but remained in the game. Kicker Ali Mourtada scored a single on the kickoff after the touchdown.
The first quarter alone saw everyone in Blue and Gold get a slice of the pie, highlighted by Adams, who had a 52-yard catch and run before defensive back Marcus Sayles tracked him down to make a touchdown-saving tackle. The tackle only delayed the inevitable as Collaros hit Rasheed Bailey for a 17-yard score three plays later to make it 15-0 with minutes left in the opening frame. In the final minute of the first, B.C. had their best chance at points on the night but kicker Jimmy Camacho had a 46-yard field-goal attempt sail wide. Grant ran the miss back 47 yards before getting forced out of bounds. Grant gave the Lions headaches all game, putting the final touches on the victory late in the fourth with a 63-yard punt return touchdown. It was Grant’s first return touchdown of the season.
The lone mistake the Bombers made in the opening half, and the game for that matter, came early in the second quarter on a quarterback sneak by Sean McGuire on a 3rd and 1 at B.C.’s 40 yard line. McGuire fumbled the snap and recovered the ball short of the first-down marker.
Midway through the third, the Bombers were stopped inside B.C. five-yard line, but a questionable roughing the passer call gave Collaros and his troops another shot at paydirt. Running back Brady Oliveira, filling in for an injured Andrew Harris (knee), punched it in from the goal line to score his first career CFL touchdown to give the Bombers a 23-0 edge. The 24-year-old Winnipegger rushed for 65 yards on 17 carries. His backup Johnny Augustine had the run of the night on a 55-yard gain when the game was well out of reach. Augustine had four carries for 73 yards.
"Testament to all of our guys. You know Johnny, specifically, staying ready for his opportunity and busted a big one there. Brady scored his first touchdown as a pro today, which is awesome. It was great all the way around," Collaros said.
But it was Jefferson who made the play of the night. He intercepted Reilly at the end of the third quarter and took it back 39 yards to the house to push the Bombers to a 30-0 lead heading into the fourth. Reilly was yanked after the misfire for Nathan Rourke, but the young QB got hurt shortly thereafter and Reilly was forced to finish the game.
The Bombers defence is giving up an average of 11.5 points per game this season.
"I’m happy that I only have to practise against those guys," Collaros said.
The Bombers are heading into a bye week and don’t play again until Nov. 6 when they host the Montreal Alouettes (6-4).
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.