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August 23, 2023

Game Preview | MTL vs WPG

Scene setter: 

The Blue Bombers (8-2) welcome the Montreal Alouettes (6-3) in the last home game of August. Winnipeg has cranked out four straight wins since the loss in Ottawa last month and now holds top spot in the West Division – two points ahead of the B.C. Lions, now 7-3.

Zach Collaros will return at quarterback for the Blue Bombers after suffering a neck injury in the first half of the win in Edmonton. Dru Brown came off the bench to rally the team for the victory over the Elks and then was behind centre for the 19-18 squeaker over Calgary last weekend.

Montreal is eons from the ‘tire fire’ so many predicted the team would be back in February, when uncertainty before an ownership change saw some high-profile talent leave in free agency. In fact, at 6-3 they are just two points back of Toronto (7-1) in the East and quickly morphed into a contender under Jason Maas.

The Basics

Kickoff: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. CDT; IG Field, Winnipeg
TV: TSN; RDS; CBS Sports Network
U.S. and international live streaming: https://www.cfl.ca/plus
Radio: 680 CJOB
Last meeting: Winnipeg 17 Montreal 3; July 1, 2023, at Montreal. The Blue Bombers have split their season series with the Alouettes in each of the last three seasons. A win Thursday would give them their first two-game sweep of Montreal since 2018.
PlayNow odds:  The Blue Bombers are favoured by 8.5 points. For more betting options on this game, click here.
Take note: Thursday’s game is the club’s Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night. As part of the ceremony, three members from 17 Wing will be bringing in the ceremonial flag and the RCAF rock band will be playing in the tailgate area and at halftime. As well, 24 members from 17 Wing will be asked to hold the large Canadian flag while four members of the Search and Rescue team will rappel from the West roof of IG Field in the pre-game.

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The QBs

  • Winnipeg will start Zach Collaros behind centre. He is 68-38 as a starter in the CFL and 7-7 lifetime in starts against the Alouettes.
  • Montreal will start Cody Fajardo at QB. He is 31-20 in his career and 2-7 all-time first the Blue Bombers. The Als are 4-3 in his seven starts with them this year.

The Coaches

  • Winnipeg: Mike O’Shea has a career won-lost record of 90-60. O’Shea’s 90 wins as a Blue Bombers head coach now ranks him second all-time in franchise history behind only Grant (102).
  • Montreal: Jason Maas has a career won-lost record of 45-36 as a head coach during his days in Edmonton and now Montreal. His teams are 4-7 all-time vs. the Blue Bombers.

Blue Bomber Roster Notes

  • The Blue Bombers have made one roster change for this week after a couple of games with the same lineup. Coming aboard this week is LB Shayne Gauthier, who replaces FB Konner Burtenshaw.
  • The other significant change, of course, sees QB Zach Collaros – who was on the roster last week despite not suiting up – returning to the starting position.
  • The injured list now features seven players, all on six game, in KR/WR Janarion Grant, LBs Malik Clements and Jared Beeksma, FB Mike Miller, DB Desmond Lawrence and DEs Celestin Haba and Thiadric Hansen.

Blue Bomber Spotlight: Sergio Castillo

The veteran placekicker has hit on 23 of 24 field goal attempts this year, for a sparkling 95.8 percentage – second only to B.C.’s Sean Whyte (28-29; 96.6%). Castillo’s only miss – a 45-yarder against Edmonton on July 20th – ended a streak of 13 straight and he’s since connected on 10 in a row, including all four of his kicks in the 19-18 win over Calgary.

The single-season club record for accuracy, FYI, is 89.4%, set by Hall of Famer Justin Medlock in 2018. Medlock holds the Top 3 spots in terms of accuracy in Blue Bomber history at 89.4%, 88.2% (2016) and 86.0% (2019).

“You look at one of the best closers in the history of the MLB in Mariano Rivera… you knew when he was coming in the game was over,” said Castillo in a chat with bluebombers.com on Tuesday. “That’s what I want. I think every kicker wants to bring that confidence to the team.

“Right now I’m just in a very good state of mind. I’m at peace. I’ve always been confident, but I’m at peace. It’s something that I don’t know if it comes with experience, or just with this locker room, but everything’s just meshing up right now.”

Our full 1-on-1 interview with Castillo is here:

Scouting the Alouettes

The Als rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit for a dramatic 25-24 win in Ottawa on the weekend that featured a seven-play, 72-yard drive for winning TD by No. 2 QB Caleb Evans – filling in for an injured Fajardo – with 14 seconds remaining. The result gave Montreal its fourth consecutive win for the first time since October of 2021.

The Als rank fourth in points (24.9) and third in points allowed (19.9) and have been especially stingy defensively vs. the pass, ranking first overall in allowing just 228.4 yards through the air per game. Montreal ranks last in quarterback sacks with 18 but has received a boost in that department with the recent addition of defensive end Shawn Lemon, who has four sacks, 10 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble in his four games since joining the club.

“He’s a great player,” said Collaros of Lemon earlier this week. “I mean, the numbers don’t lie. He’s somewhere up there in the Top 10 of sacks and obviously he’s been a great teammate, too. He’s done a great job. He’s an unbelievable pass rusher…”

Collaros paused for a moment, grinned and then added: “I don’t want to compliment him too much, though.”

Montreal has found a couple of star receivers this offseason in Austin mack and Tyler Snead – Mack leads the league with 773 yards receiving while Snead has five receiving TDs, tying him with Dalton Schoen and Nic Demski of the Blue Bombers, DaVaris Daniels of the Argos and B.C.’s Dominique Rhymes.

Notable

  • So far this season only five teams trailing after the third quarter have come back to secure victories – 5-38 overall – with Montreal having done it twice in the last three weeks with wins over Hamilton and Ottawa. The others: Winnipeg (in the 22-point rally in Edmonton earlier this month), Saskatchewan and Ottawa (with their dramatic victory over the Blue Bombers).
  • The Alouettes have won seven of their last eight road games, their best stretch away from home since winning eight of nine over 2002-03.
  • Demerio Houston leads the CFL with seven interceptions and has a pick in five of his last six games. He also leads the league with 10 takeaways, including three fumble returns.

FYI

There’s still a ton of schedule to slog through, but Brady Oliveira is leading the CFL with 783 yards rushing in 10 games. That would put him on pace for a 1,409-yard season, which would rank as the fourth highest in CFL history by a Canadian. The Top 3: Jon Cornish of Calgary (1,813 yards in 2013); Cornish (1,457 yards in 2012) and Normie Kwong of Edmonton (1,437 yards in 1956).