Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kenny Lawler (89) makes the catch as Edmonton Elks' Jonathon Mincy Sr. (2) tries to stop him during first half CFL action in Edmonton on Friday, October 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.
EDMONTON – Call it ‘Mission Accomplished’, although the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ biggest critics – the team itself – won’t be thrilled with their handiwork, even in victory.
The Bombers punched their playoff ticket with a 26-16 victory over the Edmonton Elks in front of an announced crowd of 24,276 in the Alberta capital Friday night, cranking out their seventh straight victory to improve to 9-1 – the club’s best start since opening the 1960 season 10-0.
Getting there wasn’t always pretty, with the Bombers struggling occasionally on offence and taking seven penalties for 81 yards, but the defence did its thing, particularly in the fourth quarter, again.
“A win’s a win, baby,” said receiver Rasheed Bailey. “Sometimes they’re not going to look as pretty as we want them to. And when you play a team three times you’re going to get a team that comes out and is going to play hard and give us everything they’ve got. They gave us their best blow and we came out on top.”
Winnipeg became the first team in the CFL this season to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“Man… I think back to two years ago, 2019, and that feeling of just going to the playoffs,” said Bailey. “And now to clinch it at this point of the season, it feels good. But we’re not satisfied, we’re going to keep getting better, learn from our mistakes and continue to keep winning.”
There’s a rather large concern coming out of the game for the Bombers, as running back Andrew Harris was injured in the second quarter and did not return to the game. The Bombers star pulled in a pass from Zach Collaros for a five-yard TD and as he was turning to get into the end zone, looked to awkwardly wrench his right knee.
Harris was on the sidelines for the second half, but there likely won’t be an update on his status until the team returns to practice next week. He had rushed six times for 39 yards in the first half and pulled in the one pass. He was replaced by Brady Oliveira, whose first two carries covered 15 and 18 yards. The Winnipeg product finished the night with 105 yards on 16 carries and had three catches for nine yards.
“The depth on our O-line is always something that is exciting for us,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “Brady jumped in and rushed for 100 yards. He’s only going to get better, absolutely Brady is going to get better with every carry and with every game and every series he gets. Andrew’s the guy and we’ll see what the injury report says.”
Asked how Harris’ mood was after the game, O’Shea added:
“He’s generally in the same mood all the time. He’s happy that we won, loves his teammates, loves that they played well, especially the offensive line. You don’t see much variation in Andrew’s mood.”
Tied 16-16 after three, the Bombers D shut out the Elks in the fourth quarter again and have now surrendered just two field goals in the final 15 minutes ALL YEAR. Winnipeg’s point differential in the fourth quarter is now an astonishing 91-6.
“This was a game to show us that we can’t just come into a game, no matter who the opponent is, and think it’s just going to be an easy walk in the park,” said Willie Jefferson. “(The Elks) have athletes, they have top-tier players on their team as well trying to make plays… we just have to come in and play our ball and not play down to the other’s teams’ standards.
“We just have come in, play Winnipeg football – offence, defence and special teams – locked in and focused and do what we do, do what we’ve been talking about during the week in practice and execute.”
Zach Colllaros finished the night 15-for-24 for 210 yards with the two TDs, the one to Harris and a critical fourth quarter score to Bailey and an interception in the end zone in the first half on a pass intended for Nic Demski. Collaros is now 13-1 in starts as a Bomber.
“I’m happy to get out of here with a win,” said Collaros. “I said it all week, they’re a tough defence, very physical up front and they do a good job on the edge and playing man coverage. They challenged us tonight and happy to get out of here with a win. I was proud of how we finished there in the end.”
THE BIG STAT: 10-0
The Bombers out-scored the Elks 10-0 in the fourth quarter and now have a points differential of 91-6 in the final quarter all season.
The Bombers inactive player was DB Nick Taylor, who had been working to recover from an injury in last week’s win over the Elks. Rookie Demerio Houston started in his place… Willie Jefferson registered a sack in the fourth quarter, the 50th of his career. Winnipeg finished the night with four sacks, the others coming from Adam Bighill, Steven Richardson and Jackson Jeffcoat.
4-5: The other talking point exiting this one was the solid work from kicker Ali Mourtada, who finished the night 4-0f-5, with makes from 37, 27, 43 and 24 with a miss from 44.
7-0: The Bombers are now 7-0 in games within the West Division. No Bomber team has ever finished a season unbeaten against its division. The 1994 Bombers were 9-1 in East Division games.
0-38: Winnipeg opponents are 0-for-34 for touchdowns in their fourth-quarter drives this season.
6-93: Rasheed Bailey led the Bombers in receiving with six receptions for 39 yards and a TD.
6: Deatrick Nichols and Adam Bighill led the Bombers with six tackles each.
The Bombers victory – their third against the Elks this season – improved them to 4-1 on the road and 7-0 against the West Division. The Elks, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight to fall to 2-7.
NEXT: The Bombers are home next Saturday, October 23rd, against the B.C. Lions with a 6 p.m. kickoff.