The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have the chance to run it back.
The Canadian Football League’s top regular-season team will play for the Grey Cup after defeating their bitter rival, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, 21-17 in the bitter cold at Winnipeg’s IG Field during the CFL’s West Final on Sunday afternoon.
It was a game that had all the makings of December football in Canada – including a wind-chill of minus 18 before kickoff.
The Bombers looked set to open the scoring on the game’s first drive, but wide-open receiver Nik Demski bobbled the catch, the ball landing in the hands of Saskatchewan defensive back Ed Gainey.
The bad luck struck again just moments later.
After a Riders two-and-out, Winnipeg receiver Drew Wolitarsky fumbled the football just inches from the goal-line, which Saskatchewan returned into Bomber territory.
Two plays later, Saskatchewan running back William Powell opened the scoring on an inside run.
Receiver Rasheed Bailey capped a 71-yard drive by the Bombers with a touchdown to tie the game – and the first quarter ended tied at 7.
Winnipeg would turn the ball over three times in the second quarter, but the Riders could only turn that into a single field goal, leading 10-7 at halftime despite the 5-0 turnover margin.
Saskatchewan started the second half with the football and the lead, but their opening drive was halted by a fumble from quarterback Cody Fajardo that the Blue Bombers recovered – their first turnover of the game.
Riders kicker Brett Lauther missed a 36-yard field goal for Saskatchewan, and returner Janarion Grant brought it out to the Winnipeg 40-yard-line – kickstarting a Bombers touchdown drive highlighted by a magical Kenny Lawler catch and running back Andrew Harris’ first major since Oct. 8.
Saskatchewan needed just two plays to respond with their own score, a 67-yard touchdown by receiver Duke Williams.
Winnipeg didn’t pull any punches on their next possession, a 72-yard touchdown drive finished off by CFL rushing touchdown leader, backup quarterback Sean McGuire.
Fajardo led the Roughriders on an extended drive that included a controversial catch on third down by Williams, where Bomber fans thought the ball hit the ground.
But on the Riders’ third third-down on the drive, defensive back Nick Taylor stepped in front of the pass from Fajardo to force a turnover on downs.
Demski ran a sweep for one more Bombers first down to seal the win.
“We go in at half, we’re only down by three after giving the ball away that many times,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said on 680 CJOB after the game. “I thought the temperature in the locker room was pretty good. I thought we were going to be on the right side of the score (at the end of the game).”
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, the West Division’s most outstanding player nominee, finished with 17 completions on 21 attempts, totaling 229 yards, three interceptions and one touchdown.
“Definitely had some plays that we left out there and I thought we were a much better football team than them,” Collaros said on the post-game show. “Happy to escape there with a victory. Should have been worse.”
On the other side, Fajardo finished 19 of 27 for 265 yards and one touchdown.
Andrew Harris, who returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for the final four games of the regular season, led the game in rushing with 136 yards on the ground, while also hauling in one pass for nine yards.
“Something about the playoffs just gets me going, puts a little spark, a little extra energy, a little more enthusiasm, a little more focus, and I felt that all the way through today,” Harris said.
“We gave the ball away too many times in the first half, it was a little frustrating. But our defence flexed on them in the second half and we were able to finally punch it in there in the third. I thought our defence kept us in it and offensively we’ve gotta be a lot better than that next week for sure.”
Williams was the games leading receiver with four catches for 108 yards – nearly half of them (52) after the catch.
Winnipeg is back in the Grey Cup game for the second straight year, sealing a rematch of the 2019 championship game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Sunday, December 12th from Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Central Time.
Bob’s final call
It was only fitting that the Bombers sent legendary radio play-by-play man, Bob Irving, off with a win.
After a five-decade broadcast career, including 48 years at 680 CJOB, Irving’s iconic run came to an end when the fireworks sounded at IG Field on Sunday night.
Irving became the 13th member of the Bombers’ Ring of Honour before the game.
“I’ve loved every minute of what I’ve done … particularly covering the football and particularly being the voice of the Blue Bombers,” Irving said after announcing his retirement earlier this season.
Winnipeg loves you too, Bob. There will never be another like you.