1st Half - Greg Ellingson 2 TD celebration
It was a completely off-script, thrilling, wacky and nutty ending – even by Canadian Football League standards.
Just how thrilling, wacky and nutty?
Put it this way: a thousand different possible scenarios could have been written up for the final few minutes, and yet what unfolded Friday night in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 19-17 victory over the Ottawa RedBlacks wouldn’t have been one of them.
All that said, no one in Blue Bombers colours was bemoaning the result in the season opener for both teams in front of 26,002 on a perfect night at IG Field Friday.
“We managed to win and there are great lessons in all of that,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “Certainly, I’d rather have the two points and have a lot of hard conversations coming up than not get the two points.”
There will most definitely be some hard conversations in the week ahead, as the Blue Bombers were at times sloppy and occasionally struggling in all three phases. Yet the ending – bizarre might describe it better than epic – helps gloss all that over. And here’s how it unfolded…
Trailing 17-16 with 99 seconds left, Zach Collaros was removed from the game by the CFL’s injury spotter following a 10-yard run in which he was nailed by Ottawa linebacker Frankie Griffin. No. 2 QB Dru Brown then entered the game and – why, of course – promptly completed all three of his passes to Dalton Schoen, Nic Demski and Greg Ellingson to set up Marc Liegghio’s game-winning 25-yad field goal with six seconds left.
“It’s definitely not how you want your first opportunity to go,” said Brown, who had all of 14 pass attempts last season, his first with the Blue Bombers. “Zach’s been an incredible mentor to me – everything I know has been from him and Buck (Pierce, offensive coordinator). You never want to see something like that happen and I hope he’s OK moving forward. But also, the team needs me to step up in moments like that. It was a great opportunity for me to show them they can trust me.”
The Brown/Liegghio dramatics also came after Dakota Prukop – the Blue Bombers third quarterback – had put the club ahead 16-14 with just over six minutes remaining. Yet, Liegghio subsequently missed the convert and the RedBlacks promptly took the lead back on a Lewis Wad 43-yard field goal with 3:50 remaining.
But when it mattered most, the Blue Bombers defence forced a two-and-out, giving the offence one more chance to author the dramatic final chapter.
“The convert is just not acceptable by my standards,” said Liegghio. “I just got under it… that’s not the way that I kick. I’ve got a lot of things to improve on from this game, but I’m just glad I got that shot to get my team the win. It’s the whole team, not just me.
“It always feels good to hit the game winner and see your teammates run on the field and high-five you and give you a hug… it’s a great feeling.”
The win capped a night in which the club’s 2021 championship was celebrated with the unveiling of a back-to-back Grey Cup banner. But when Collaros went down there was first obvious concern for the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, followed by how they were going to rally with him on the sideline.
“I saw him on the ground,” said Brown. “Obviously you feel terrible in a situation like that, but I just tried to get past that because the team needs me and that’s why I’m here.”
“It’s a critical point in the game and for him to operate the offence like that and move them was awesome,” added O’Shea. “But that’s why he’s here.”
THE BIG MOMENT
It’s too easy to simply pick Liegghio’s game-winning field goal, so we’ll go with this: on Brown’s first snap behind centre he said his cadence was off and the Blue Bombers were called for procedure.
His next play – on a 1st-and-15 with 1:22 left – was massive, as he delievered a dart to Dalton Schoen, followed by the completions to Demski and Ellingson.
THE BIG STAT
Ottawa out-everythinged the Blue Bombers statistically on this night, but the result was Winnipeg’s 10th consecutive regular season home victory – the first of that length since a 10-game streak running from August 13, 1993 to August 24, 1994. Winnipeg is now 20-1 in its last 21 at IG Field – the best home stretch since 1983-86.
Offence: Greg Ellingson, WR – Made his Blue Bombers debut a memorable one with six catches for 74 yards and a TD, and then pulled in the last pass to help set up the Liegghio winner.
Defence: Donald Rutledge, DB – A handful of candidates, but the club’s new dime back finished with five tackles and had Winnipeg’s only sack.
Special teams: Marc Liegghio, K – Yes, he missed a convert. But the winning kick was clutch and he finished two-for-two.
NEXT: The Blue Bombers and RedBlacks will do it all over again next Friday in Ottawa – June 17th – with a 6:30 p.m. CT kickoff. Winnipeg’s next home game goes Friday, June 24th at IG Field when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pay a visit for a rematch of the 2019 and 2021 Grey Cup combatants.