Attention, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans: bust out the parkas and long-johns, the bellaclavas and heated socks. Oh, and keep Sunday, December 5th open because your favourite football team will be hosting the Western Final. Yes, with a dominant 45-0 victory over the B.C. Lions Saturday night the Bombers made official what has been obvious for weeks – the road to the Grey Cup from the West will feature a stop here in the Manitoba capital.
— Darren Cameron (@Darren_Cameron) October 24, 2021
The win, once again backstopped by a dominant defence and bolstered by stellar work from the offence and special teams, improves the Bombers to 10-1 and means they’ll host a division final for the first time since 2011 – then as members of the East Division – and only the fourth time since 1995. This will also be the first time the Western Final will be held in Winnipeg since 1972.
“It’s important for the fans. It’s going to be good for them and therefore good for our team,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea of finishing first. “Our players understand that playing in front of our home crowd is pretty special here. It’s important.
“In terms of us clinching, it’s not anything we really talked about or it was never really a goal from the beginning, it just adds up that way. When the players believe in and stick to the process and focus on the immediate task at hand every single day they have a good chance at success. So far this year that success has added up and it just adds up to these numbers being such that we’re in this position. It’s really about their attention to that daily grind, which is very pleasing, obviously.”
Worth noting: the win was the eighth straight for the Bombers, the club’s longest streak since winning eight in a row over a stretch at the end of 2002 and start of the 2003 season. The win also gave the Bombers their fifth straight 10-win season, something the club hasn’t done since posting six double-digit win seasons over a stretch from 1957-62 – a run that also included four Grey Cup championships.
“All it is is a ticket to play in that game,” said Zach Collaros, who was sensational in completing 16-of-20 for 267 yards and three TDs – two to Kenny Lawler and a third to Rasheed Bailey – in just over three quarters of work before being replaced by Sean McGuire.
“We’ve still got some football left to be played, obviously, and our goals are still ahead of us. It’s nothing we really set out to do or ever talked about in training camp or the weeks leading up to this. It’s just trusting our process in going 1-0 each week. It just so happens we were able to clinch it this week. It’s awesome. Guys are excited, but we’ve got a lot of football left to be played.”
We’re running out of superlatives for the Bombers defence, but stellar, dominant, stifling, punishing, stingy, supreme, commanding, suffocating… they all fit.
The Bombers’ defence – Canadian Football League’s most powerful unit – authored the first shutout since a 31-0 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on October 13, 2018.
Winnipeg limited the Lions to just 199 net yards, forced three turnovers, registered four sacks and chipped in on the scoring when Willie Jefferson intercepted a Michael Reilly pass and returned it 39 yards for the fourth touchdown of his career. Get this: the Bombers have surrendered just 126 points this season, an average of 11.5 points per game. And those fourth-quarter numbers continue to be astonishing: the Bombers have surrendered just two field goals in fourth quarters ALL SEASON and have out-scored opponents 105-6.
Asked about the defence’s nickname – ‘The Dark Side’ – Jefferson offered this:
“All the light is on the other side of the field. We let D.A. (Darvin Adams), Zach (Collaros), Andrew (Harris), Brady (Oliveira)… we let those guys light it up. We’re going to turn off the lights. We want to play in the dark and in the dark is where it gets dirty, it gets real grimy and it’s a street fight. That’s how we play football: 60 minutes of bully ball, 60 minutes of fists swinging, eyes getting black and all that… fat lips, bloody noses, that’s how we play football. We play clean through the whistles, but we still want the lights out.”
The Bombers were without RB Andrew Harris Saturday night, as the future hall of famer missed his first game since being injured while catching a TD pass in last week’s win over Edmonton. The Bombers got solid work from his understudies, as Brady Oliveira rushed 17 times for 65 yards and his first career TD and Johnny Augustine also got his touches, rushing three times for 69 yards, including a gritty 55-yard run.
And to cap it off, the Bombers also got a fourth-quarter punt return score from Janarion Grant, covering 63-yards, making this as dominant a win as the club has served up this year.
“It was nice to see the special teams get going, they’ve been working hard and to get a reward like that is good for them,” said O’Shea. “All three phases played very well. The defence was exceptional.”
THE BIG STAT: 0
Points allowed by the Bombers Saturday night, the first shutout since 2018. It also, unofficially, marked the first time since 1970 the Lions have been held off the scoreboard.
FYI: The Bombers improved to 6-0 this season at home and are now 17-1 in their last 18 games at IG Field dating back to the fall of 2018.
8-0: Winnipeg is now also 8-0 against the West Division.
1st/1st: Zach Collaros leads the CFL with 2,832 yards passing and in passing TDs with 18.
4-93: Darvin Adams led all receivers with four catches for 93 yards.
2-2: Kenny Lawler had two catches, both for touchdowns.
4: The Bombers had four sacks – two by Jackson Jeffcoat with one each from Steven Richardson and Casey Sayles.
NEXT: The Bombers have their second and final by of the season next week. They return to the field on Saturday, November 6th at IG Field against the Montreal Alouettes with a 6 p.m. CST kickoff.