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With losses in four of their last five games entering Friday’s regular-season finale, it was impossible for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to be playing their best as they enter the CFL playoffs.

Still, a win over the reigning Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders at least offered the chance to end the 18-game schedule on a high note. And the Bombers, in a gritty effort and with new quarterback Zach Collaros, did just that, beating the Stampeders 29-28 at IG Field.

Blue Bombers' Janarion Grant runs a missed Stampeders convert back for 2 points in the second half at IG Field Friday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Bombers' Janarion Grant runs a missed Stampeders convert back for 2 points in the second half at IG Field Friday.

Trailing 28-26 with two minutes left and on their 46-yard line, Collaros marched the offence 38 yards to Calgary’s 26 to set up a game-winning field goal. With zeroes on the clock, kicker Justin Medlock connected from 34 yards out to seal the win.

"We’re a blue-collar team and we’re going to fight to the end. Today, we showed that," running back Andrew Harris said. "There was a lot of big plays, game-changing plays, a lot of great efforts and we didn’t give up. I’m proud of my teammates."

The victory was particularly meaningful for the Bombers when it came to their place in the West Division standings. Eliminated from finishing first following a 37-33 loss in Calgary last week, Winnipeg can still finish second. But they’ll need help from the Stampeders, who dropped to 11-6 and will need to lose again on the road next week to the B.C. Lions.

The Bombers finish the season 11-7 and now enter the bye week, where they’ll have to wait to find out their postseason fate.

"I don’t know that you can carry momentum for two full weeks. But I think it allows our guys to have a pretty positive feeling for the next four or five days that they have off," head coach Mike O’Shea said.

All eyes were on Collaros, who was sprung into duty after an ankle injury placed Chris Streveler on the one-game injured list. Collaros arrived two weeks ago, acquired from the Toronto Argonauts at the trade deadline earlier this month after starting the season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The 31-year-old, eight-year veteran hadn’t taken a live snap in 114 days, after suffering a concussion in Week 1 while with the Roughriders. Collaros finished the night 22-for-28 passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns, including an incredible touchdown toss to Darvin Adams in the fourth quarter that sparked the comeback.

Blue Bombers' receiver Darvin Adams reception is broken up by Calgary Stampeders' Tre Roberson early in the second half at IG Field Friday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Bombers' receiver Darvin Adams reception is broken up by Calgary Stampeders' Tre Roberson early in the second half at IG Field Friday.

The Stampeders edged Winnipeg in net offensive yards (387 to 315), first downs (25 to 20), touchdowns (4 to 3) and time of possession (31:16 to 28:44). Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary’s star quarterback, was his usual self, throwing for 350 yards and four scores.

The Stampeders were quick to set the tone early, orchestrating a 12-play, 81-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead. Mitchell moved the ball with relative ease, including converting on four second downs, before connecting with Hergy Mayala on a 22-yard strike to the back of the end zone.

Collaros has suffered a number of concussions over the last couple of seasons, and there was concern whether he might be done with football. But after a rigorous rehab regimen, which included a team of doctors in Toronto monitoring his brain health, he was cleared to play.

He passed a major test on the Bombers’ third series, when he was flushed from the pocket and, as he rushed up the field and started to slide, appeared to take a shot to the helmet.

It didn’t get much better on Winnipeg’s next drive, as Collaros attempted a pass into triple-coverage that was intercepted. The takeaway gave the Stampeders the ball at their 52, but it ended with a missed field goal from Rene Parades. Janarion Grant, the Bombers speedy returner, retrieved the ball in the end zone and scampered up the right sideline before being tackled by the hair by Calgary’s Mike Rose.

Blue Bombers' fullback Mike Miller drives towards the goal line against the Stampeders' Nate Holley.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Blue Bombers' fullback Mike Miller drives towards the goal line against the Stampeders' Nate Holley.

The Bombers hit pay dirt on the ensuing drive, taking their first lead of the game, 10-8, with a three-yard run from Nic Demski with 1:34 remaining in the first half.

Just when it looked like the Bombers were in full control before the break, Mitchell entered the game with a quick plan to steal it back. With 1:28 left before halftime and pinned on their own 15, Calgary needed just nine plays to go 90 yards, capping off the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Eric Rogers with one second left to make it 14-10 Calgary.

The Bombers have struggled since opening the season 5-0, posting a 5-7 mark in their last 12. One of their biggest issues has been a lack of scoring in the second half, where they averaged 8.5 points over those 12 weeks.

But this is a new offence under Collaros, and it took just three minutes and 52 seconds to put up another seven points. This time Collaros hurt the Stampeders with his arm, taking full advantage of a short punt, which was made shorter by a 15-yard no-yards penalty.

The Bombers took over on Calgary’s 25 and, one play later, Collaros connected with a wide-open Kenny Lawler in the end zone to put the hosts back on top, 17-14. The drive lasted just 20 seconds, ending with Collaros jumping into the arms of his teammate.

Airborne Blue Bombers Brandon Alexander and Mercy Maston deny Calgary Stampeders' Reggie Begelton.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Airborne Blue Bombers Brandon Alexander and Mercy Maston deny Calgary Stampeders' Reggie Begelton.

"He was great tonight," Harris said of Collaros. "He made big throws, made big plays with his feet, took some shots and got up. He was solid all-around."

The Stampeders didn’t let the Bombers enjoy it for too long.

However, a four-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, capped off with another Rogers score, this one from 10 yards out, could have been a lot worse. But Parades missed the one-point convert, and Grant returned the ball 122 yards to Calgary’s end zone, adding two points to the Bombers’ side and cutting the Stampeders’ lead to 20-19.

Not finished there, Mitchell threw for his fourth touchdown of the game as time expired in the third quarter. Mayala’s second touchdown of the night, along with a successful two-point convert, put the Stampeders up 28-19.

It’s a play like that would usually spell the end for the Bombers. But with Collaros came renewed hope, and he delivered, orchestrating an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to cut the Stamps’ lead to 28-26.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Justin Medlock kicks the game-winning field goal against the Stampeders in the final seconds Friday, at IG Field.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Justin Medlock kicks the game-winning field goal against the Stampeders in the final seconds Friday, at IG Field.

As impressive an answer as it was by the Bombers, it was the 11-yard pass from Collaros to Adams that will surely have everyone talking in the coming days. After being flushed from the pocket and driven back to the 25-yard line, Collaros rolled out to the right and launched a pass on the run to a waiting Adams, who had his toes just in bounds in the right corner of the end zone.

"The confidence they showed in that fourth quarter was impressive," added O’Shea. "That’s the stuff that they need to remember."

That set up a nail-biting finish, with the Bombers winning by a hair to keep the hope of hosting a playoff game, the West Division semifinal, alive.

"It felt really good to get a win. Those guys deserve it in there, they prepared so hard," Collaros said. "Any time you can get a win in this league you’ve got to enjoy it because it’s tough to do.".

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.

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