September 29, 2023

Game Recap | TOR 21 WPG 31

1st Half - Nic Demski 10 pump up (2)

Take a deep breath, Bomber Nation – maybe a couple of them – and please resist the urge to fall into a state of paralysis from over-analysis.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers weren’t at their best Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd of 32,343 at IG Field in their annual Orange Shirt Game but still emerged with a 31-21 victory over a Toronto Argonauts squad resting a handful of regulars, including quarterback Chad Kelly.

So, here’s the all-important bottom line: the win pushes the Blue Bombers record to 11-4 and sends them into next week’s critical game with the B.C. Lions, who also improved to 11-4 with a 33-26 win Friday over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The two clubs split the first two meetings of the season, with next week’s game serving as a potential tiebreaker should they finish tied in the standings at the end of the season.

“That was a gritty win,” said veteran guard Pat Neufeld. “Great game… back and forth… Toronto was making plays in the first half to keep us out of the end zone, but we made some adjustments at halftime. More than anything, we just rallied our minds together and came out with a unified mindset and just refused to get beat.

“There’s still some things we have to correct, especially in the score zone to get sevens and not threes, but we’re really happy with the win.”

The Argos dressed Kelly, a Most Outstanding Player candidate, but he didn’t take a snap as the quarterback assignment was handed to rookie Cameron Dukes, who was making his first start. Dukes was dynamite early, leading the Argos to touchdowns on their first two drives with a 28-yard strike to AJ Ouellette, followed by a five-yard score of his own.

Knocked down early, the Blue Bombers defence then steadied their legs and limited the Argos to just two field goals in the final 47 minutes to help backstop the win.

Winnipeg’s attack cranked out 443 yards net offence, including 199 along the ground, against a stingy Argo defence that was without defensive back Jamal Peters, linebacker Wynton McManis and defensive lineman Shawn Oakman.

“I don’t know how many players they sat, obviously the bigger name guys we know, but Flo (defensive end Folarin Orimolade) is still out there, (Adarius) Pickett is still out there – they’ve got a lot of really great players on the defensive line, their linebackers I thought played really well and secondary-wise it was pretty much everybody but Peters so that’s still a pretty damn good football team,” said quarterback Zach Collaros, who finished the game 22-of-33 for 258 yards with a TD pass to Brady Oliveira and one interception. “They’d lost one game.”

Make that two now, as the Argos are now 12-2. Let’s not forget this, too, even without some regulars, they are still the defending Grey Cup champions.

“We won, which is the outcome we desired,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “I’m not sure it looked the way we wanted it to look, especially parts of the first quarter but we all know, everybody understands, that Toronto is a good football team. So, when you end up winning a football game against them, you’ve got to be happy about that. They’ve got to have fun tonight and then tomorrow we’ll look at some things, ask some questions and find some answers.”

More from our view in the press box on the 11th win of the season for the Blue Bombers…


Oliveira was at his bulldozing best Friday, rushing 25 times for 169 yards while also pulling in two passes for 12 yards and the TD. Oliveira built on his league-leading rushing total and now has 1,359 yards along the ground.

“I take pride with what we do in the run game and even in the pass game to protect Zach,” he said. “When it’s on our shoulders, myself, and the offensive line, we take pride in that and want to put it on our back to win lots of football games for this team.

“We did that this evening, but we’ve got to continue to try and get better because there were lots of plays out there we probably wish we could get back.”

As for the 1K-1K watch: Oliveira and Nic Demski are on the verge of making Canadian Football League history as the first two Canadians to rush for 1,000 yards and finish with 1,000 yards receiving in a season, here’s the update: Demski had 32 yards on four catches and now needs 37 more to reach the 1K mark.


The Blue Bombers had to lean on kicker Sergio Castillo as the Argos defence stiffened in the red zone. Winnipeg got TDs from Oliveira and Dakota Prukop on a QB sneak, but Castillo was called upon often and hit on six of his seven field goal attempts, connecting from 26, 33, 49, 48, 41 and 32 while a 52-yard attempt in the third quarter hit the upright and then the crossbar but did not fall through.

“I’m grateful for my teammates… I missed that 51 (it was listed as 52 on the stats sheet) and you always think about the one you miss,” said Castillo. “I was obviously frustrated because I want to make it and help the team, but Woli (Drew Wolitarsky) gave a speech right after the game and I’m just grateful for these guys.

“Basically, in a nutshell what he said was in the past if there’s an interception or a play doesn’t go our way we put our heads down. There was a different spark today in terms of when a play didn’t go our way there was just a mentality of ‘Alright, let’s just move on.’ You need that to reach the end goal that you want.”


The news coming out the loss could be compounded by an injury suffered by cornerback Demerio Houston in the first half. The CFL’s interception leader was injured late in the second quarter and while he left the field under his own steam, did not return to the game.

His injury led to Winston Rose flipping sides, with Jamal Parker then coming into the game to play at the opposite corner. No update from O’Shea after the game on the status of Houston going forward.


The Blue Bombers took a few minutes before the opening kickoff to honour future hall of famer Andrew Harris, who travelled with the Argos but did not dress after recently being moved to the six-game injured list.

A proud Winnipegger, Harris began his career with the Lions before signing with the Blue Bombers as a free agent in 2016. His impact was immediate, but on the field and he played a pivotal role in the franchise turnaround before departing in free agency in 2022.

In his five years with the club, he moved into sixth place on the club’s all-time rushing list while leading the CFL in rushing three times. Harris was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2017 and his crowning moment came in the 2019 Grey Cup when he was named the MVP and the Most Valuable Canadian, helping end a 28-year Grey Cup drought, and then playing a prominent role on the 2021 championship.

Harris received a hearty ovation from the fans, saluting the crowd several times. The announcement/tribute ended with:

“Harris is a future hall of famer for his many years of outstanding work here with the Blue Bombers alongside his days with the B.C. Lions and now the Toronto Argonauts. Thank you, Andrew, for your years with the Blue Bombers and for representing this city, this province and this franchise so well.””


Early fourth quarter with the Argos up 21-16 when Collaros had a pass intended for Dalton Schoen picked off by Qwan’tez Stiggers. But two plays later Willie Jefferson forced a fumble on Deonta McMahon run that was recovered by Deatrick Nichols.

That set up a 48-yard Castillo field goal that cut the Argos lead to 21-19 and was critical in stealing back momentum.


Time of possession for the Blue Bombers, to just 20 minutes and 39 seconds to the Argos. Critical in that was Winnipeg’s 68 percent conversion rate on second downs (19 of 28).

GAME BALL: Brady Oliveira, RB

Made one mistake with a fumble in the score zone but finished with 181 yards from scrimmage – 169 along the ground and 12 through the air, including a TD.


The Blue Bombers are now 13-1 after a bye week since 2017 and the club improved to 8-0 under Collaros in games after a loss.


As mentioned above, the Blue Bombers head out to Vancouver next Friday for a massive matchup with the B.C. Lions. Game time is 9 p.m. CDT.

“I usually can’t sleep after a game, so I’m sure I’ll be clicking on the laptop around two or three (in the morning) to watch some B.C. stuff,” said Collaros. “But you’ve got to enjoy it. It’s tough to win in this league and so we’ll enjoy it for a little bit and throw a few beers back.”