1st Half - Dalton Schoen 83 - Brady Oliveira 20 touchdown celebration
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had just completed applying the finishing touches on a franchise-record 15th win when Brady Oliveira stepped behind the podium in the media centre at IG Field late Friday night.
And over the course of his ensuing session, the Winnipeg tailback hit on a variety of topics, from the team reaching the 15-win mark for the first time in franchise history, to the focus shifting now to the game that matters most – the Western Final here on November 13th – to getting to the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his first year as the Blue Bombers feature back.
There’s clearly a great sense of pride and accomplishment in Oliveira reaching 1K, especially as the heir apparent to Andrew Harris hardly rocketed out of the starting blocks this season. Yet it’s his resilience which ultimately mirrors that of his team so far this season.
Consider this: in the first six games of the season Oliveira had 62 carries for 196 yards, or a 3.16-yard average. But over the final two thirds of the year, he rumbled for 805 yards on 140 carries, or 5.75 yards a pop. It’s a reminder of the old line that ‘sometimes you have to go through hell before you get to heaven.’
“It’s not how you start it’s how you finish,” said Oliveira. “My running back coach (Jason Hogan) just told me that in the locker room before I came in here and I’m going to live by that for the rest of my life because the way that I started this season no one probably thought that I was going to be here right now getting 1,000 yards rushing.
“I just think it’s a testament to all the hard work I’ve put into this. It’s my teammates and my coaches and that offensive line. When things were going not-so well for me, my teammates in there had my back; my coaches in there had my back. I had so many great conversations with my coaches that really sparked this for me and had that change in my season. And then just my teammates and my offensive line having full trust in me and belief in me since Day 1.
“We were able to get 1,000 yards – that’s our 1,000 yards,” he added. “That offensive line, it’s a privilege to be able to run behind them. They’re the best offensive line in the league and I’m fortunate to get to work with them every day. They make my job easier going out there on game day and being able to run the ball.”
Oliveira becomes the 17th Blue Bombers running back dating back to 1950 to hit the 1K mark and only the third Canadian behind Gerry James, who accomplished the feat twice (1955, 1957) and Harris, who did it three times (2017-19).
More on Oliveira, the ground game and the Blue Bombers 15th win of the season in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
THERE’S A TON OF TRUTH… in Oliveira saying the 1,000 yards belongs to the O-line, for obvious reasons. It will be an important component in the West Division playoffs because both the Lions and Calgary Stampeders have dominant ground games, but also because it’s been a foundation to the Blue Bombers brand of football since Harris arrived in 2016 and even after this exit prior to this year.
“We were dialed in this week,” said Oliveira. “I ran angry in practice this whole week. I don’t even think it was for the 1,000 yards. This is the time of year where we’re going to heat up. We’re going to play our type of football.
“This organization, we want to run the football – that’s our identity. It’s more a mindset – OK, let’s lock in now. The weather is starting to change, it’s getting a little bit cooler. I know it’s going to be our time, that offensive line we’re going to get to work in these playoff games.
“We had a great week of preparation. I ran angry tonight and not necessarily to prove a point… maybe just to prove a point to myself that I belong here, and I can do this. Going back to the start of the season, no one probably thought I would be here with 1,000 yards today. So, the fact that I was able to get that with my offensive line just to prove to myself that I can do this, and I belong. And me being a Winnipegger it means so much more to me in the fact that I’m able to go out there and play hard for these fans and for the city. I just want to put on for my city and help my team win football games. It’s a great accomplishment.”
FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM FRIDAY’S ‘W’…
In no particular order:
1 – The Bombers got done what they needed to on so many levels in Friday’s win, but especially in welcoming back from the injured list players who needed work. To that end, Greg Ellingson got one pass for 26 yards; Drew Wolitarsky had one for nine; Jackson Jeffcoat had two tackles and a sack.
2 – Some of the special teams issues that popped up in the loss in Vancouver disappeared, as the kick-cover units were exceptional and as Marc Liegghio hit his one field-goal attempt – albeit from just 13 yards – while punting well.
3 – Winnipeg’s entire defence authored a physical performance as they limited the Lions to just 281 yards net offence, including 58 yards rushing and 3.6 yards per carry.
4 – The Blue Bombers used their 10th different personnel combination in the secondary and now look to have more options for their best grouping back there in weeks. Jamal Parker has had two solid outings at halfback after moving over from corner and Canadian rookie Tyrell Ford – making his first start – was steady with two tackles and three knockdowns. Alden Darby, Jr. had his most-productive game at the dime spot and with Demerio Houston, who was on the one-game injured list, running and practising a bit last week.
5 – The crowd count was 23,685 for a Friday night game in late October with the result not impacting the standings. The Blue Bombers averaged 28,641 fans this season and led the league in attendance for the first time in franchise history. That could be a massive advantage if the park is packed again for the Western Final, as it was last year.
THERE’S MORE TO COME, BUT DALTON SCHOEN… finished off his rookie regular season in style with two catches for 84 yards and his 16th touchdown. Schoen’s 16 scores tied him with Ottawa’s Caleb Evans and his 1,441 yards receiving was most in the CFL.
It marks the second-straight season a Blue Bombers player has led the CFL in receiving – after Kenny Lawler did so last year – and his total was the most by a Blue Bomber since Milt Stegall had 1,896 yards in 2002, the year he was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.
Schoen’s yardage total was also the 7th most in Blue Bombers history with only Stegall (1,896 in ’02; 1,616 in ’97 and 1,499 in ‘00), James Murphy (1,746 in ’86), Gerald Wilcox (1,624 in ’94) and Eugene Goodlow (1,494 in ’81) having registered more.
“What can you say about him that hasn’t already been said?” said head coach Mike O’Shea after the game. “He’s really good. I mean, I don’t want to short-change the kid – I could stand up here and say all these things again. For the amount of football he’s played at the pro level and for his age he is extremely driven, extremely focused. He knows exactly what he wants to do every single day in terms of getting better.
“Can anybody foresee that it’s going to add up this way for a particular player in terms of the stats? No. But when you put that much effort in, and when you’re always dialled in… it’s not easy. It’s not easy to do that.
“I just appreciate the type of guy he is, the type of teammate he is. Sure, he likes to have fun and laugh and do all that, too, but he is dialled in. It helps that he’s really, really smart and picks things up very easily and recognized the nuances of the Waggle and how important that was going to be so he lasered his focus on a few of the things that were going to make a big difference for a young American receiver coming in which, right there, is wise beyond his years.”
EXCUSE THE MINI-RANT HERE… but it’s about this notion in some corners that Nathan Rourke should win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award over Zach Collaros because in the nine-plus games he played around his injury were more ‘outstanding.’
No one is arguing the spectacular numbers the Canadian pivot put up before the injury and how his play was vital for energizing the league in the summer and in the week ahead before the Western Semi-final. But Collaros dressed for 18 games – he didn’t play in the last road game in Vancouver – and led the Blue Bombers to the best record in the CFL and led the league in touchdown passes with 37.
That total is not only second most in Blue Bombers history – Khari Jones had 46 in 2002 – it’s the highest league-leading total since Henry Burris threw for 43 scores in 2012.
Availability matters and Collaros – now 32-4 for the Blue Bombers since his arrival – was there all year for the club even as the receiving corps around him was without Nic Demski for five games, Greg Ellingson for 10 and Drew Wolitarsky for four. Those receivers who didn’t miss action – Schoen and Rasheed Bailey – both had career seasons, with the latter pulling in 63 passes for 729 yards and nine touchdowns.
AND FINALLY… COOL MOMENT FOR VETERAN FULLBACK MIKE MILLER… who scored the second touchdown of his career on a third quarter sneak in his 190th CFL game. His other came in 2017 with the Blue Bombers, FYI, on a fumble-recovery score on special teams after a blocked punt.
“You can feel that on the bench when a guy who doesn’t get his number called very often gets his number called,” said O’Shea. “It means something different to the bench.
“There’s a lot of guys that play beside Mike Miller all the time on punt and kickoff, kickoff return that are absolutely excited that he got that opportunity. They love it for him.”
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) October 29, 2022