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November 27, 2019

Upon Further Review | HAM 12 WPG 33

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros and Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Justin Medlock celebrate their win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Pat Neufeld stood a few feet from a makeshift stage pulled onto the McMahon Stadium field a few minutes after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had walloped the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 107th Grey Cup.

Stuck to the the 2019 Grey Cup champions hat on his head and the accompanying championship T-shirt pulled over his uniform and shoulder pads were bits of the blue and gold which had just rained down moments earlier.

Dominating the veteran guard’s mug was a contented grin.

“I’m just so proud of this team, so proud of this organization for fighting through all the tough years and the years that we were really close,” said Neufeld. “I’m just so happy for all the guys who were wearing white and blue on the sidelines today and for Bomber fans everywhere. We had this in the back of our minds, how long it’s been and we knew we had a legitimate chance today we came out and we proved it.

“It’s been nine years for me, seven years as a Bomber and you could just feel it. You could feel the pressure that was mounting… hats off to Wade (President and CEO Miller) and (GM) Kyle (Walters) and Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) for building what they built and getting us to this game. It’s hard to put into words. I’m just so happy for this team.”

There were a lot of similar reactions late Sunday night, both on the field and in champagne/beer-soaked locker room afterward. There was an obvious air of accomplishment, of course. And there was a look of satisfaction and wonderment for the many rookie Bombers who dressed on Sunday – including starters Drew Desjarlais, Rasheed Bailey, Kenny Lawler, Mike Jones – as well as Nick Hallett, Kerfalla Exumé, Jonathan Kongbo, Sean McGuire, Steven Richardson, Tui Ei, Thiadric Hansen and Janarion Grant.

Yet, what was also palpable was a sense of relief for players and coaches who owned some a part of the longest championship drought in franchise history.

“This is a great feeling,” said veteran left tackle Stanley Bryant, who won his second Grey Cup ring after winning with the Calgary Stampeders before joining the Bombers the following season. “It took five long years. But I’ve been telling guys since the playoffs started we were going to bring this city a championship. We faced some adversity, but we did it and we’re champions now.

“This bunch believed. When I was in Calgary we knew we had the team to do it. It was the same with this bunch of guys. I know so many people counted us out with all the things that happened with Matt (Nichols) and then Andrew (Harris). It just all started in 2015. I knew it was a tough process, but I knew it was going to happen.

“The belief just kept building and building. I’m happy to be a Bomber, happy to be a champion. We ended the drought.”

We’re going to do things a little differently in our weekly post-game collection of notes and quotes we call UPON FURTHER REVIEW, instead focusing on key plays from the 107th Grey Cup that helped end the drought and brought the franchise its 11th championship…

THE KEY PLAYS THAT MADE A CHAMPION…

First Quarter

Play #4: B.A. Gets The Turnover Machine Started

The defensive game plan for the Bombers focused on the need to pressure Hamilton QB Dane Evans and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Mission accomplished on the first offensive possession of the game as an Evans pass attempt to Jaelon Acklin sails high and goes off his hands into those of safety Brandon Alexander.

Winnipeg would punt four plays later, but the turnover set an early tone: the Bombers planned to bring it.

Play #10: Big-Time Players Make Big-Time Plays In Big-Time Games

Buoyed by the early turnover, the Bombers get back to pressuring Evans. The Ticats open their second possession on their 25-yard line, but got a 15-yard boost after Jackson Jeffcoat sacked Evans on a play in which Willie Jefferson was flagged for roughing-the-quarterback.

Jefferson atones on the very next snap, registering his first of two sacks and forcing a fumble in the process, which was then scooped up by Adam Bighill and returned to the Ticats 15-yard line. One play, and the fingerprints of two of the Bombers’ top defensive players were all over it.

Play #11: Ladies and Gentlemen… Andrew Harris

The Bombers follow up the turnover by scoring on their first touch as Harris burst through a hole on the left side of the offensive line and then bulls his way into the end zone. It was just the second touch of the game for Harris, coming after a catch for minus-three yards in the Bombers’ first offensive series.

Winnipeg goes up 7-0 and worth noting is that of the 67 previous Grey Cups dating back to 1952, the team that scored first had won 40 times – or 60 percent.

Play #28: Thou Shall Not Cross

Hamilton now trails 8-3, but seemed to be finding an offensive rhythm on its next offensive touch, primarily on the ground behind the running of Bralon Addison (one carry for nine yards) and Tyrell Sutton (three carries, 19 yards) before Evans hit Brandon Banks for an eight-yard gain on second and nine.

That set up a third-and-one gamble from the Bombers 34-yard line, but back-up QB David Watford is stuffed by defensive tackle Steven Richardson, forcing a third turnover of the first quarter. Worth noting: the Ticats had been a perfect 16-for-16 on third-down gambles throughout 2019.

Second Quarter

Play #53: Hobbled Hero to Hometown Hero

The Ticats and Bombers have traded field goals early in the second quarter, when Winnipeg’s defence forced a Hamilton two-and-out – a sack by Drake Nevis followed by a solid tackle by Kyrie Wilson following another short completion to Banks – when Janarion Grant returns a punt 32 yards to set up the Bombers at the Ticats 50.

A Zach Collaros-to-Darvin Adams completion covered eight yards and on second-and-two, and Chris Streveler entered the game to convert with a three-yard run. Andrew Harris then rumbled for 21 yards before Streveler – working on that bum wheel which has bothered him throughout the latter part of the season – then fired a strike to Harris, who dove behind two Ticats defenders for his second TD and an 18-6 Bombers advantage.

Play #55: A Play Felt All The Way to Germany

Coaches always talk about playing with physicality on all three phases. The physical tone is affirmed on the kickoff right after the Harris TD as Thiadric Hansen – hands down the best Global player in this new CFL 2.0 initiative – completely destroys two Ticats, including dangerous returner Frankie Williams in a hit which TSN’s Chris Cuthbert exclaims will be felt all the way to Germany, where Hansen was born.

Play #60: Demski Flips The Field

Winnipeg is still leading 18-6 when the defence holds – again – forcing a punt and a Bombers possession which begins on the Ticats 41-yard line with 4:13 left in the first half.

The game is still too close for either team to be comfortable and field position at this point is critical. That’s when Nic Demski takes an end around and flashes his speed and agility on a 22-yard run to the Hamilton 47. Demski would finish the night with 67 yards of offence, FYI – this run, plus four catches for another 45 yards.

The play is important because even if Hamilton holds here it would result in a punt deep into their territory. Instead, the Bombers churn out an 11-play 60-yard drive that results in a Justin Medlock field goal with 17 seconds left in the half.

Third Quarter

Play #80: Ho-Hum… ‘Money’ Medlock Does It Again

Winnipeg’s 21-6 lead at the intermission hardly feels like enough against the Ticats explosive offence, but the Bombers open the second half with the ball and crank out a seven-play drive that results in another Medlock field goal to increase the lead to 24-6 before Hamilton’s attack gets back on the field.

It was the first of four Medlock field goals in the second half alone and his six makes by the end of the night would tie a Grey Cup record.

Play #86: Thou Shall Not Cross, The Sequel

Desperately needing to cut into the Bombers lead, the Ticats offence finds some traction with three completions covering 28 yards and two Sutton runs over 22 yards. That sets up a third-and-short situation from the Bombers 25-yard line but again, the defensive front holds with Wilson tackling Evans for another turnover on downs.

Play #98: An Unsung Player Steps Up Again

The Ticats won’t go away and an Evans-to-Addison TD has pulled them closer to 24-12 when head coach Orlondo Steinauer opted to go for a two-point conversion to potentially narrow the gap to 10 points.

But a pass attempt to Acklin in the back of the end zone is batted down by Wilson, who makes another quietly important play. Wilson finished the night with five tackles and this knock down.

Fourth Quarter

Play #124: The Pressure Keeps Coming

The Bombers are up 30-12 and expecting one final fourth-quarter push from the Ticats. With just over six minutes left, Jefferson is in the face of Evans again, with a sack and a forced fumble that is recovered by the Ticats.

But on the ensuing play, #124, Jeffcoat brings down Evans and forces another fumble and then recovers it himself, leading to another Medlock field goal.

Play #141: And Another Makes Seven

Bombers cornerback Mike Jones caps what has been a spectacular and dominant performance by the defence, intercepting Evans with 36 seconds remaining. Jones, the rookie corner who had taken over the starting chores late in the season is another unsung Bomber who had a fantastic Grey Cup with four defensive tackles and another on special teams, this interception and three pass knockdowns.

Play #143: The Drought is – FINALLY – Over

It was hardly a dramatic ending in overtime or a game-winning field goal as time expired, but with the ball on their own 47 yard-line following the Jones interception, Collaros kneels twice and the Bombers bench rushes onto the field as veteran staffers – many with tears in their eyes – begin a hugfest that will last into the offseason.

Final: Winnipeg 33 Hamilton 12