Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros warms up before a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, on Friday, October 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
VANCOUVER – It’s become a recurring plot, as predictable as a Fast and Furious script and as consistent as a sunrise. And not a single Winnipeg Blue Bombers faithful anywhere is the least bit bored by it all.
The Bombers won their fifth straight game Friday night here on the West Coast with a dominant 30-9 win over the B.C. Lions that was all about what the club does best: owning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and relying on a stifling defence as its rock solid foundation. The win improves the club to 7-1, their best start since posting the same record through eight games in 2011, and keeps them atop the West Division with the best record in the Canadian Football League. The Lions have now dropped two in a row to fall to 4-4.
“Our guys are playing well. There’s still room for improvement and they’re all committed to that, which is extremely important,” said head coach Mike O’Shea.
“They’re a good football team. Our guys are a good team right now and it’s not by accident. They work hard at it. I don’t know that everything is going our way. I don’t know that the third quarter went our way. But I know this is a tough place to play and our guys stayed focused coming off the bye week, didn’t listen to any of the stuff about where we’re at. Stayed true to that process that allowed them to have some fun together this year and really enjoyed getting back to work after the bye. It’s showing right now that these guys are playing hard and enjoying themselves.”
The Bombers ‘Dark Side’ defence, which has been so thorough in delivering beat downs this year – aside from the lone loss in Toronto – kept B.C.’s powerful offence out of the end zone and held them to just 218 net yards in offence. The Bombers registered six sacks in the game – one each from Adam Bighill, Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Steven Richardson, Casey Sayles and Thiadric Hansen and forced one turnover, with Mike Jones intercepting Nathan O’Rourke late in the fourth quarter.
On top of that, the Bombers attack served up its best statistical performance of the year, rolling up a gaudy 508 yards on offence with Zach Collaros completing 28-of-33 for 417 yards and two TDs – one to Kenny Lawler and the second to Rasheed Bailey. It was the best yardage total for Collaros as a Bomber, the second-highest in his career (he threw for 439 yards in a game in 2016 as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and the third time he’s eclipsed the 400-yard mark in his career.
“It was a big game for all of us,” said Collaros. “We left some points out there, which we’ve got to really clean up. We turned the ball over a couple times and had a little lull in the third quarter. But overall we moved the ball really well. We like to finish drives with touchdowns and we’ll continue to work on that.
“It really starts up front. I was really clean in the pocket all game and I just can’t say enough good things about those guys up front and Andrew (Harris) and Nic (Demski) an Woli (Drew Wolitarsky) who have to come in (in pass protection) as well. Anytime you’re comfortable in the pocket you feel you’re going to be able to throw the ball well and our receivers made great plays on the ball and had a lot of YAC yards for sure.”
The game had been billed as a duel between the league’s two best pivots so far in ’21, with Reilly and Collaros ranked 1-2 in passing yardage. Both men, not coincidentally, were also being mentioned as CFL Most Outstanding Player candidates. And based on Friday night, Round 1 clearly goes to Collaros.
Seven different receivers pulled in passes, with Kenny Lawler posting a career-best 12 catches for 205 yards. Reilly, meanwhile, was held to just 177 yards passing on a 17-of-27 effort. All this coming following a week in which Reilly and Lucky Whitehead made tons of headlines in Vancouver and in Winnipeg.
“We put the league on notice. Best wide receiver-quarterback duo,” said Lawler. “When I come here it’s personal, it’s very personal. I just try to hold myself to the highest standard and make as much plays as possible so that the whole league and B.C. know. It’s personal for many reasons. I was here in B.C. in 2018… it’s very personal whenever I come to this place.”
THE BIG STAT: 508/215
The Bombers cranked out 508 net yards offence, while limiting the Lions to just 215.
“We love our brothers, man. We do this for the man in our huddle, the man that’s on our sidelines and the man back home. If we got that, ain’t nothing stopping us. We do it for the love of our brothers.” – Kenny Lawler
It might be time to step away from the panic button, at least for now. Ali Mourtada hit a 12-yard field goal in the first quarter for his first in the CFL, added a 29 yarder in the third quarter, and a 23 yarder in the fourth to finish three-for-three. The Bombers also got a boost in the return game with Janarion Grant back in the lineup for the first time since Week 1. Grant finished with 67 yards on seven punt returns and 43 yards on two kickoff returns.
DT Steven Richardson, out since Week 1 with a foot injury, wasted little time making an impact, sacking Michael Reilly on the Lions second offensive snap of the game… Lucky Whitehead exited the game in the second quarter after taking a nasty shot from Brandon Alexander on a pass completion that was brought back because of a holding penalty. He was initially ruled out by the Lions, but returned in the second half… The Bombers had 16 first downs in the first half alone and 28 overall… Winnipeg won the game despite losing the turnover battle 2-1. It marked the first time this season the Bombers did not win the takeaway/giveaway category… The Bombers blanked the Lions in the fourth quarter and have now surrendered just six points total in fourth quarters all year… The Bombers did lose WR Drew Wolitarsky to an injury in the second half. He was having an outstanding game, too, with four catches for 68 yards… Sean McGuire scored his league-leading seventh TD of the season.
NEXT: The Bombers return home to face the Edmonton Elks on Friday, October 8th at 7:30 p.m..