Bombers roll to ninth straight win


For three quarters, it looked like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had met their match, battling toe-to-toe with the Montreal Alouettes as the they entered the final 15 minutes locked at 21-21.

Then, the Bombers did what they’ve done pretty much all season long in the fourth quarter. Once again, Winnipeg put an exclamation point on a game with a dominating display in the final frame, shutting out the Montreal Alouettes to earn a 31-21 victory in front of 22,933 at IG Field Saturday night.

The Bombers scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, beginning with a two-yard touchdown run by No. 2 quarterback Sean McGuire, before newly acquired kicker Sergio Castillo connected with a 47-yard field goal in the dying seconds to seal the win.

“Honestly, it comes down to guys knowing their assignments and playing fast. I mean, we don’t have question marks; it’s everyone seeing their targets, hitting their bull’s-eyes,” said Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill after the game.

“You got to play us all four quarters and don’t expect us to give you anything — everything’s going to be contested. I feel like we just get better as the game goes on and everything just starts to snowball, and we really continue to increase our ability to see the things coming that we need to see.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Demski (10) celebrates his touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, November 6, 2021. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Nic Demski (10) celebrates his touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, November 6, 2021. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Bighill reeled in one of two interceptions on the Alouettes final two drives of the game, with DeAundre Alford also picking off Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris to stymie any comeback by the visitors. After surrendering a touchdown on the Alouettes opening drive of the second half, the Bombers forced punt after punt, including three two-and-outs, on Montreal’s next five series.

The Bombers defence, a unit that was averaging fewer than 12 points against per game, and an eye-popping 0.54 points in the fourth quarter (yes, you read that right), were able to find that magic again down the stretch. The Alouettes finished with 251 yards of offence compared to the Bombers’ 376, with Winnipeg also winning the turnover battle, three to one.

“We enjoy being out there and being able to go out there and make plays,” added Bighill. “So, when it comes our turn to go out there, believe me, we’re excited and I think that some of those aspects are how we continue to push the bar higher. We want to be on the field, we want the ball to be on our back.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Drew Wolitarsky (82) and quarterback Zach Collaros (8) celebrate Wolitarsky’s touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Drew Wolitarsky (82) and quarterback Zach Collaros (8) celebrate Wolitarsky’s touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

With the win, the Bombers improved to 11-1, and have now earned victories in nine straight. Winnipeg also proved perfect at home, winning all seven games at IG Field during the regular season. That should bode well for a club that has already locked up first place in the West Division and will be back at home for the West final on Dec. 5, after wrapping up the final two regular-season games.

The Alouettes dropped to 6-6 with the loss, and are no longer able to leap frog either the Toronto Argonauts (8-4) or Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-5), who have the edge in the event there’s a need for a tiebreaker. Montreal will get a chance to avenge the loss when they welcome the Bombers to town next Saturday, for a matinee game at Percival Molson Stadium.

It wasn’t the kind of game the Bombers have been used to this season, as tight affairs have been few and far between. After both teams capitalized on early turnovers — with the Bombers turning a fumbled snap on an Alouettes punt attempt into an eight-yard touchdown pass from Zach Collaros to Nic Demski and the Alouettes’ Jamal Davis returning a fumble by Brady Oliveira for a score — the Bombers took a small lead.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Demski (10) gets tackled by Montreal Alouettes' Nick Usher (10) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Nic Demski (10) gets tackled by Montreal Alouettes’ Nick Usher (10) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Castillo connected on a 22-yard field goal and then added a single point when another attempt, this one from 38 yards out, sailed wide. The Alouettes would eventually take the lead after Harris, who finished 14-of-25 passing for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first start for Montreal, hit Reggie White Jr. for a six-yard touchdown.

That put the visitors up 14-11, making it the first time the Bombers have trailed in a game since a tilt with the Edmonton Elks back on Sept. 18.

“I think adversity’s always good,” said Bombers defensive lineman Jake Thomas, who finished with two of the Bombers four sacks on the night.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) scrambles away from pressure by Montreal Alouettes' Jamal Davis (99) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) scrambles away from pressure by Montreal Alouettes’ Jamal Davis (99) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

“We’ve got to realize that it’s not always going to be sugar cookies and rainbows. We’re not always going to be up 45-0. We were in a hard-nose football game and it’s fun to be in those games. It’s fun to be in the fourth quarter trying to shut them down when it really matters. They’re a good team and I’m sure it’s going to be another close one next week.

The Bombers tied the game 14-14 at halftime after Castillo made good from 34 yards with 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Montreal then took a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter, when Harris found Jake Wieneke for a seven-yard touchdown — his league-leading ninth of the season.

Collaros, who ended the night 21-for-33 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns, evened the game up by finding a wide-open Drew Wolitarsky for a 24-yard score. It was Wolitarsky’s first touchdown of the season.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Sean McGuire (12) goes for the short yardage touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes’ Rodney Randle Jr. (32) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Sean McGuire (12) goes for the short yardage touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes’ Rodney Randle Jr. (32) during the second half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

That set the stage for a fourth quarter dominated by the Bombers defence — a group that will continue to be leaned on as the Bombers seek to defend their Grey Cup run from 2019. The fans will be waiting, too, as they gave the Bombers a thunderous cheer while exiting the field.

“We have to understand that the fans are the lifeblood of our league,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “So, we need to honour them with good play that they’re proud of when they leave the building — they’re proud to come watch us. But we don’t talk a lot about that or anything. I just, I feel that our players are pretty observant and understand how good our fans are to us.”

 

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

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