So you’re telling me I have to come up with 5 Takeaways from a game that meant nothing?
Do you want me to pull a rabbit out of a hat as well?
Despite my whining, there actually are a few things worth mentioning about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ending the regular season with a 13-12 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium to finish the year with an 11-3 record.
You know the old rule where you should never mention a goalie is having a shutout until the final whistle? It turns out the same rule applies to football.
With the Bombers leading 12-0 late in the game, a scribe in the press box dug up a fun fact: the Stampeders haven’t gone scoreless at home since Oct. 27, 1965, in a 22-0 loss to the visiting Bombers.
That streak will extend into a 57th year as moments after that, Calgary rattled off 13 unanswered points in the final six minutes to steal the game. The Bombers are no strangers to heartbreaking losses at McMahon (not counting 2019, of course), but luckily for them, this one doesn’t change a dang thing.
As you’re of aware by now, the Bombers had already clinched the top spot and will host the West Division final on Dec. 5. The same applied to the Stampeders (8-6) as no matter what happened on Saturday, it was already determined that they had to go to Mosaic Stadium this Sunday to play the West semifinal against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (9-5).
As promised, here are five things that stood out from the final game before post-season play:
1. Collaros lives to fight another day
The idea of quarterback Zach Collaros taking some snaps in a meaningless game had many people feeling uneasy.
Luckily for the Blue and Gold, everything went according to plan. Collaros played four drives, moved the ball relatively well, and was able to leave the game late in the first half without getting hit once.
“I felt good. Osh asked me how I felt, how I was seeing things, and I told him I thought I was seeing the coverage well and he made the decision to take me out,” Collaros said post-game.
“They didn’t drag me off the field but you never want to come out of a game, especially when the rest of the guys are out there playing. It’s never easy to do, but I understand.”
It might have felt unnecessary to put Collaros, who went 7-for-10 for 73 yards, at risk, but if they didn’t, their Most Outstanding Player nominee would’ve gone three full weeks without game action heading into the West final.
2. But will Alexander?
Safety Brandon Alexander has been brilliant for the Bombers this season. His strong play put him in the conversation to be named the team’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player nominee (linebacker Adam Bighill ended up getting the nod).
It’s what makes Alexander leaving the game in the second quarter with an injury so concerning. Alexander collided with teammate Thiadric Hansen while attempting to make a tackle on a punt. The safety was slow to get up but was able to walk off the field. He didn’t return to the game.
Afterwards head coach Mike O’Shea said he didn’t have an update on Alexander. Alexander’s status will have to be monitored closely as we near Dec. 5.
3. Quarterback room looks iffy
In all fairness to Dru Brown, he’s a 24-year-old rookie.
The Palo Alto, Calif., native had never played a down of professional football before Saturday and there was no pre-season this year for the third-string pivot to learn a thing or two.
But with the game meaning nada and backup Sean McGuire in Winnipeg with a groin injury, Brown was the one who officially took over for Collaros after the veteran got a few throws under his belt.
Brown’s first time dropping back to pass came in the first quarter in the red zone and it wasn’t pretty. He felt the heat from a blitzing linebacker and fumbled the ball. He avoided making any huge mistakes for the rest of the game, but he also failed to throw the ball down field. Brown, who transferred from Hawaii to finish his college career at Oklahoma State, connected on 7-of-14 passes for a grand total of 49 yards. He made a couple plays with his legs, scrambling seven times for 44 yards, but the offence was flat with him in charge.
It’s not fair to write the kid off yet, but it wasn’t an encouraging debut. McGuire, who’s in his second season with the team, somehow looked even worse last week with four interceptions and a 39 per cent completion percentage.
In a lot of ways, on and off the field, the Bombers are the envy of the CFL. But outside of Chris Streveler, who also had his flaws, this a franchise that has struggled mightily at discovering young, talented quarterbacks in the last decade or two. But with No. 8 currently behind centre, that doesn’t seem to really matter now, does it?
4. Here’s Johnny
Johnny Augustine can play. It’s absurd that a guy with his talent went undrafted and is a third-string running back in this league.
He might not be for long, though, as he will be a free agent after this season and should have no shortage of suitors if he chooses to explore his options.
Saturday’s contest was a drag to watch, but Augustine made it somewhat bearable as he ran for over 100 yards in the first half and finished the game with 148 on 23 carries. He hasn’t gotten a ton of chances in his career, but whenever the Welland, Ont., native does, he takes full advantage. He has 83 carries for 573 yards in his three CFL seasons, giving him a career yards per carry average of 6.9.
Augustine, a 28-year-old out of the University of Guelph, got the start Saturday as Andrew Harris remains on the six-game injured list and Brady Oliveira was out with an ankle injury.
It’d be interesting to see what Augustine could do if he had a large workload over the course of a full season. Whether it’s in Winnipeg or somewhere else, don’t be surprised if that ends up happening in 2022.
5. Bombers finally got a trustworthy leg
Sergio Castillo didn’t let a windy, freezing cold night in Calgary prevent him from having an impressive performance.
In his third game with the Bombers since being acquired in a trade with the Lions, Castillo nailed four-of-five field goal attempts with his makes coming from 15, 45, 46, and 50 yards. His lone miss was a 52-yarder.
Before Castillo, a former CFL all-star with a brief NFL stint on his resumé, arrived in Winnipeg, the kicking game was essentially the only weakness the Bombers had. The first three kickers the Bombers tried this year, Tyler Crapigna, Marc Liegghio, and Ali Mourtada, combined to make 16 of 28 field-goal attempts.
Now that they’re set in all three phrases, it’s going to take a near-perfect showing by the Stampeders or Riders to pull off the upset in the West final.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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