Funny thing about sports and scripts and, in particular, how they apply to the Canadian Football League and a 110th Grey Cup match up featuring the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes.
Let’s face it, no one – and we mean no one – could have seen this coming back in February when the Alouettes were seen as a listing ship barrelling toward rocky shores before the ownership change to Pierre-Karl Peladeau. Prospective free agents were diving for life rafts, and their new coach and quarterback had already been cast adrift by the Saskatchewan Roughriders after a disastrous 6-12 season.
Heck, few – outside of the Alouettes dressing room, at least – would have seen this coming even 72 hours ago when Montreal stepped onto the field in enemy territory to face the juggernaut Toronto Argonauts, 16-2 in the regular season, in the Eastern Final.
So, from an Alouette perspective, good on ‘em for grabbing the script already written and shredding the thing in booking their trip this week to Steeltown.
And the Blue Bombers, well, it’s not that a return to a fourth straight Grey Cup wasn’t already featured prominently in a ton of scripts across the CFL map – you don’t roll over the enemy like Roman legions as consistently as this group has over the last few seasons without earning that respect, even if it’s begrudging – it’s just that so many had predicted a dramatic downfall.
The roster was greying at the temples, after all, and to trot out the first of many clichés this week, Father Time is a nasty SOB who remains undefeated.
Yet… not yet. There’s still fight in this dog, now chasing a third Grey Cup title in four years and a chance to firmly establish this era as the Glory Days 2.0, rivalling the four championships in five years from 1958-62.
Regardless of what anyone in Toronto or Vancouver says, or the angst it causes in Saskatchewan, Alberta or the rest of Ontario, Winnipeg vs. Montreal makes for a compelling, if unexpected, matchup. And we’re here for every nanosecond of it.
With that preamble in mind, here’s a deeper dive at the 110th Grey Cup participants – the first time these two franchises have met for a championship in history with the Blue Bombers opening as 7.5-point favourites…
Record: 14-4, first in the West Division
Head coach: Mike O’Shea (96-62)
How they got here: cranked out a 14-4 regular season after going a combined 26-6 over 2021-22 and then knocked off the B.C. Lions 24-13 in the Western Final.
Grey Cup appearances: 27
Grey Cup titles: 12 – 1935, 1939, 1941, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1984, 1988, 1990, 2019, 2021
CFL All-Stars in 2023: RB Brady Oliveira, Rec Dalton Schoen, RT Jermarcus Hardrick, RG Pat Neufeld, DE Willie Jefferson, CB Demerio Houston.
West Division All-Stars in 2023: The six listed above, plus QB Zach Collaros, Rec Nic Demski, LT Stanley Bryant, DB Evan Holm, S Brandon Alexander
Points: Wpg: 33.0 (1st)
Touchdowns: Wpg 65 (2nd; Tor. first at 66)
Net offence per game: Wpg: 414.7 (1st)
Passing yards per game: Wpg: 292.4 (2nd)
Rushing yards per game: Wpg: 139.1 (1st)
Sacks allowed: Wpg: 33 (2nd; Tor. first at 19)
Turnovers: Wpg: 35 (4th; Tor. first at 27)
Turnover differential: Wpg.: +8 (4th; Tor. first at +27)
Points allowed: Wpg.: 20.9 (1st)
Touchdowns allowed: Wpg.: 35 (1st)
Opponent net offence per game: Wpg.: 298.8 (1st)
Opponent passing yards per game: Wpg.: 229.4 (1st)
Opponent rushing yards per game: Wpg.: 90.4 (3rd; Tor. first at 83.6);
Sacks: Wpg.: 53 (3rd; Tor. first at 68)
Turnovers forced: Wpg.: 43 (T-3rd; Tor. first at 54)
Record: 11-7, second in the East Division
Head coach: Jason Maas (50-40)
How they got here: Pumped the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27-12 in the Eastern Semi-Final and then shocked the CFL world with a 38-17 victory over the Argos in the Eastern Final.
Grey Cup appearances: 18
Grey Cup titles: 7 – 1949, 1970, 1974, 1977, 2002, 2009, 2010
CFL All-Stars in 2023: Rec Austin Mack, S Marc-Antoine Dequoy
East Division All-Stars in 2023: Mack, Dequoy plus OL Nick Callender, DT Mustafa Johnson, LB Tyrice Beverette, DB Wesley Sutton.
Points: Mtl.: 24.6 (4th)
Touchdowns: Mtl.: 43 (4th)
Net offence per game: Mtl.: 329.7 (6th)
Passing yards per game: Mtl.: 250.0 (6th)
Rushing yards per game: Mtl.: 102.2 (5th)
Sacks allowed: Mtl.: 61 (8th)
Turnovers: Mtl.: 34 (3rd)
Turnover differential: Mtl.: +14 (2nd)
Points allowed: Mtl.: 21.8 (2nd)
Touchdowns allowed: Mtl.: 39 (2nd)
Opponent net offence per game: Mtl.: 331.8 (3rd)
Opponent passing yards per game: Mtl.: 239.1 (2nd)
Opponent rushing yards per game: Mtl.: 109.9 (5th)
Sacks: Mtl.: 41 (T-6th)
Turnovers forced: Mtl.: 48 (2nd)
-The Blue Bombers won both meetings this year, winning 17-3 on Canada Day in Montreal and 47-14 on August 24th in Winnipeg.
Game 1 Recap
Winnipeg improved to 3-1 and shook off a 30-6 loss to B.C. the week previous with a solid road win that had been delayed an hour and 40 minutes due to lightning.
Zach Collaros threw TDs to Dalton Schoen and Drew Wolitarsky while the defence registered four sacks and forced four turnovers.
Quotable: “Total group effort,” said Brady Oliveira, who rushed 20 times for 112 yards. “With the weather conditions, with how the game started with the delay we did a great job responding to adversity and went out there and the offensive line played amazing. We had some new pieces in there and the receivers that were in there and got their opportunity did a great job when their number was called.”
Game 2 Recap
The Blue Bombers improved to 9-2 with a fifth straight win in front of a sold-out crowd, as the club overcame three first half interceptions by Collaros in the victory – outscoring the Als 27-0 in the second half as the veteran pivot threw for four touchdowns, two to Schoen with one each to Brady Oliveira and Kenny Lawler
Oliveira also rushed 18 times for 119 yards and another TD.
Quotable: “Our defence was unbelievable,” said Collaros. “We gave up three points. As a quarterback you can’t spot them seven and then spot them 14. And the other interception being in the score-zone area and taking points off the board… I can’t hurt our team like that.
“The guys rallied around me. The defence was unbelievable, like I said, special teams was awesome all night and I thought (the offence) played really well, too, if you take away the three mental mistakes – errors – by me.
“I saw Mr. Prukop, Dakota’s dad, after the game and he said, ‘It’s not every day you get to throw six touchdowns in a game.’ I thought that was pretty funny.”
3 Blue Bombers vs. Alouettes offensive trends
1 – Collaros threw four interceptions in the two games, but also six touchdowns. All told, his numbers vs. Mtl.: 31-47 for 417 yards with the six TDs against four picks.
2 – Oliveira rushed for over 100 yards in both wins, 239 yards in total. Winnipeg rushed for 381 yards against Montreal in the two wins.
3 – The Blue Bombers sported gaudy second-down conversion totals in both wins – 63.6 percent on Canada day and 68.2 in Winnipeg in August.
3 Blue Bombers vs. Alouettes defensive trends:
1 – The Blue Bombers gave up a grand total of six offensive points in the two wins in the regular season – a David Cote 27-yard field goal on Canada Day and a 42-yard Cote three in the August rematch.
2 – In the two meetings the Blue Bombers surrendered just 510 net yards of offence, including just 173 in the win in Winnipeg in August – a season low.
3 – Winnipeg had six sacks in the two games vs. the Als, including five on the Canada Day win.