1st Half - Willie Jefferson 5 - Jackson Jeffcoat 94
A question to the rest of the Canadian Football League from this prairie outpost smack dab in the heart of the country: Sick of us yet?
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are headed to the Grey Cup game for a fourth straight season – and chasing their third title over that span – following a dominant performance in Saturday’s Western Final, a 24-13 win over the B.C. Lions that had a gritty lunchbox-and-hard-hat feel to it from the opening snap to the final whistle.
And with that the Blue Bombers become the first team in the CFL to advance to the title in four consecutive years since the Edmonton dynasty of 1978-82.
“It’s exciting. We’ve earned the right to have another week together,” said running back Brady Oliveira, who finished with 109 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries. “This is a special group, and I really wanted another week together with this group. I love everyone in this locker room and so the fact that we earned another week together is huge. It’s going to be a fun week in Hamilton.”
That’s a given. What is surprising – shocking, even – is who they’ll be facing in the 110th Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field after the Montreal Alouettes upset the Toronto Argonauts, 16-2 in the regular season, with a 38-17 win.
These two teams, interestingly, will meet for the Grey Cup for the first time in history.
The Blue Bombers Western Final victory was dominated at the line of scrimmage, but particularly with what defensive coordinator Richie Hall and his staff of Jordan Younger, Darrell Patterson and James Stanley dialled up with a variety of looks that flummoxed Vernon Adams, Jr. and the Lions. Adams, Jr. threw for a B.C. record 413 yards and two touchdowns, running for three more scores, in last week’s Western Semi-Final win over the Calgary Stampeders, but could not get comfortable at all with the pressure the Blue Bombers ‘Darkside’ defence brought all night.
Winnipeg held the Lions to 189 yards net offence, registered an astonishing nine sacks and picked off Adams, Jr. three times.
In fact, B.C.’s only TD came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half that bounced off a mob of Blue Bombers and Lions into the mitts of Justin McInnis for a 45-yard score.
“Our defence is very resilient, we’re very confident in ourselves – especially with our home fans behind us giving us all that noise on second down, even first down,” said Willie Jefferson, who registered two sacks and had two pass knockdowns. “It was hard for B.C.’s offence to get going because they couldn’t really hear.
“We’re a bend/don’t break defence, but tonight, man, we were just really don’t break. We were out there being aggressive; we were out there being physical, and we really wanted to go out there and shut boys out.”
More on the Blue Bombers’ Western Final win Saturday night from our view in the press box…
A WIN AT A COST?:
Tough moment in the first half when future hall of fame linebacker Adam Bighill pulled up with an undisclosed leg injury. One of the toughest hombres ever to pull on a helmet and shoulder pads in league history, Bighill hopped to the sidelines and was then carted to the dressing room at halftime.
“I’m hurting. That’s my captain. That’s my leader,” said Jefferson of Bighill going down. “Ever since I came here in 2019, I’ve not necessarily been following Adam, but he’s a key voice in my ear every play.
“He’s a big piece to our defence and to see him go down really hurt me, it really hurt everybody on the defence. But you know how it is – next man up, and we’ve got the utmost confidence in all our boys. Malik (Clements) came in and filled in at that spot. Shayne (Gauthier) came in and filled in that spot. Kyrie (Wilson) came in and filled in at that spot. B Cole (Brian) came in and filled in at that spot and there was no drop off. They knew exactly what they were supposed to do.”
The reaction of his teammates and coaches to him as he sat on the bench for a few moments before exiting was telling, although head coach Mike O’Shea wouldn’t rule out Bighill afterward.
“He’s arguably the best linebacker of this time frame,” said O’Shea. “But… don’t count him out. Don’t count that out. I wouldn’t rule any of our guys out, but I wouldn’t rule Biggie out.”
The Lions opened the scoring on their very first possession with a 48-yard Sean Whyte field goal, but that was countered by a Blue Bombers touchdown on a drive that set the tone – especially for the opening half. Winnipeg’s first touch covered 10 plays and 70 yards while taking 6:50 off the clock. And, get this, it was Oliveira who had every touch with nine rushes and one catch.
“I was tired, man,” said Oliveira. “But you’ve got to dig deep in games like that when the team is relying on you and my teammates are relying on me and my coaches are relying on me, the fans are relying on me.
“You’ve just got to tap into a different mode and don’t be denied and just keep on fighting. That’s definitely the moment I got into on that drive. My teammates obviously kept me motivated and supported me throughout that drive. It was good. A total team effort for sure.”
There were so many huge plays authored by the defence, but the special teams also chipped in at a critical moment, too. Leading 8-3 in the second quarter safety Nick Hallett blocked a Stefan Flintoft punt, jumped on the loose ball and then dragged defenders 15 yards into the end zone for a special teams TD.
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) November 12, 2023
“Nick Hallett is a stud,” said O’Shea. “You saw what he did last year, too – he got one (a block) in the Grey Cup. He’s just really, really smart. And you combine that with the athleticism he has… I like him. He’s grimy. He’s got some dirt to him.
“He just recognizes opportunities and capitalizes on them. It’s one thing to recognize an opportunity, he manages to follow through and make plays for his teammates and they love him for it.
“I mean, he’s a very highly respected and well-liked member of our team. He’s super quiet and goes about his business. He’s a stud.
THE BIG MOMENT:
The Blue Bombers led 18-13 after three quarters in a game in which they had dominated but held just a five-point advantage. With the Lions marching and at the Winnipeg 49-yard line, Adams, Jr. was intercepted by. Demerio Houston – his eighth of the season – and returned 21 yards.
That set up a Sergio Castillo field goal that gave the home side a bit of breathing room.
DEMERIOOOOOO PICKS OFF VA IN THE 4TH ‼️
— CFL (@CFL) November 12, 2023
THE BIG STAT: 9
Pick any defensive stat you like, but this one is best representative of what the Blue Bombers did on the night, registering nine sacks of Adams, Jr. And with that one of the deadliest QBs in the league was rarely comfortable in the pocket.
Entire defensive unit. Period. Full stop.
NEXT: The 110th Grey Cup vs. Montreal from Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, with the game scheduled to start at 5 p.m.