Winnipeg Blue Bombers 0-2 for 1st time since 2016 after 23-19 loss to RedBlacks

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) throws the ball while Ottawa Redblacks' Damon Webb (9) tries to tackle him during second half CFL action in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle.

For a second straight game to begin the 2024 season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers looked nothing like the dominant team the league has become accustomed to seeing over the last few seasons.

The Bombers fell 23-19 to the Ottawa RedBlacks and dropped to 0-2 on the season for the first time since 2016. It’s also the first time they’ve lost back-to-back games since the 2021 campaign.

The Bombers erased an early 13 point deficit to lead by a single point midway through the fourth quarter, but former Bombers quarterback Dru Brown found Justin Hardy at the back of the end zone with seven minutes remaining to give Ottawa the lead for good.

“I thought the first half we just could have stayed on the field a little longer possibly,” head coach Mike O’Shea told the 680 CJOB post game show. “I liked our second half. I liked the way the guys came out with an opportunity to win it. I thought we gave ourselves a good chance. It didn’t work out.”

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It was another mediocre game for Bombers QB Zach Collaros who threw for 285 yards and two interceptions with no touchdowns. He has yet to throw for a score in two games this season and couldn’t finish a potential game-winning drive in the dying moments.

“Offensively, obviously we have to play better,” Collaros said. “It’s no secret. It starts with me. I have to do a better job of completing balls and not putting us in bad situations. Got to find a way to get us into a rhythm.”

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Collaros was sacked three times and the Bombers only had 42 rushing yards but O’Shea didn’t want to point the finger at his offensive line for the struggles on offence.

“I’m not going to be able to answer until we go through the film,” he said. “Are you talking about protections? Are the routes the right depth? Are guys in the right spots at the right time? All that kind of stuff.

“There’s a lot that goes into it than just trying to point the finger at something, at one group really.”

Keric Wheatfall was the Bombers leading receiver in his first CFL start for the injured Kenny Lawler. He finished with three catches for 111 yards, thanks in large part to a 76 yard catch in the third quarter.

“We didn’t start so fast,” Wheatfall told the 680 CJOB post game show. “We picked it up a little bit in the second half, but we just need to play a complete game as a team and just do more.”

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Winnipeg got behind early, falling behind 10-0 after one quarter thanks to a 12-yard Lewis Ward field goal and a one-yard Dustin Crum touchdown run.

Another Ward kick, this one from 31 yards out, gave Ottawa a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, before the Bombers finally got on the board on a 45-yard Sergio Castillo field goal with 7:16 left in the half.

And then with just over two minutes to play in the half, the Bombers finally found the endzone as Johnny Augustine scored on a four-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 13-10.

Ottawa added another Ward field goal, from 34 yards out, to make it 16-10 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Bombers jumped in front for the first time all game, on a 2-yard touchdown run by Chris Streveler with 5:48 left, set up by a 76-yard pass to Wheatfall.

But Ottawa went ahead with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter as Brown found Hardy for a two-yard touchdown. In a student vs the teacher matchup, Brown outdueled Collaros, throwing for 238 yards and a touchdown.

With Winnipeg behind 23-17 and driving down the field, the game was delayed for about an hour due to thunderstorms in the area. Out of the delay, the Bombers got as close as the Ottawa seven yard-line but failed to punch it in.

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The Bombers run game was not much of a factor as Augustine, replacing the injured Brady Oliveira at running back, carried the ball just seven times for 31 yards.

Winnipeg is also dealing with more injury problems as the defence took a major hit in the first half. Defensive end Celestin Haba, defensive back Deatrick Nichols, and defensive tackle Miles Fox all left the game in the first half and did not return.

“I don’t think these guys would ever want to use that as an excuse,” said O’Shea. “The bottom line is – you play defensive football, you want to play 100 snaps a game. Like, you just want to be out there.”

O’Shea didn’t have an injury update on any of three players after the game.

The Bombers return home next week to battle the B.C. Lions on Friday, June 21. Pregame show begins at 5:30 p.m. on 680 CJOB with kickoff set for just after 7:30 p.m.

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