For nearly three decades, beginning in 1990, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their loyal fans wondered if they’d ever hoist the Grey Cup again.
Their 29-year championship drought was a dark cloud hanging over the team — and something the franchise was tired of talking about.
What a difference a few years make.
On a blustery night in Hamilton, Ont., with a sold out crowd of more than 26,000 fans packed into Tim Hortons Field mostly cheering for the Tiger-Cats, the Bombers won a thrilling overtime decision 33-25.
They are now back-to-back Grey Cup champions, the third time in team history, after consecutive wins over the Hamilton Tigers-Cats in the title game.
In fact, in the previous two occasions where the Bombers won back-to-back Grey Cups, the victories were also against the Ticats, in 1958-59 and 1961-62.
“Resilience. Perseverance. We did it all year. Just an amazing group,” said Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros.
Sunday night’s 108th Grey Cup game was an instant classic, with the Bombers storming back from being down 12 points in the fourth quarter. Hamilton forced overtime in the waning seconds of the game.
But like so many times throughout the season, Winnipeg found a way to win when it mattered most.
In overtime, Collaros found Darvin Adams in the end zone to score a touchdown and put all the pressure on the Ticats to match the Bombers.
The best defence all year long flexed their muscles in a championship-defining moment, with linebacker Kyrie Wilson intercepting Jeremiah Masoli to seal the victory.
“In the fourth quarter we handle business. It came down to overtime. We have so much confidence in our offence and then we’re going to go out there and shut the lights off,” said Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson.
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This was the latest in the season the Grey Cup game has been contested. Despite the Dec. 12 kickoff, it was unseasonably warm in Hamilton with the game time temperature at 4 C.
This was the first time the Ticats were playing on home turf in the big game since 1972 — that game was also the last time the Grey Cup was played in December. Hamilton defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 13-10 on that day.
The locals were hoping for a repeat result on this Sunday, but the Bombers proved to be too strong in the end.
O’Shea perfect in 6 Grey Cup appearances
Bombers coach Mike O’Shea is undefeated as a player and coach in Grey Cups — he is now a perfect 6-0 in the big game.
O’Shea won as a player in 1996, 1997 and 2004 – all with Toronto. He also won in 2012 as Toronto’s special teams coach before these past two as Winnipeg’s head coach.
“I don’t even look at it like that,” O’Shea said when asked about his unbeaten record in Grey Cups.
“The only thing to say is this is a team. You can only do this by becoming a team throughout the year.”
O’Shea said his team never lost belief, even when trailing by double-digits in the final frame.
“I guess it’s magic. They always manage to figure out,” he said. The Bombers were dominant this season, racking up an 11-3 regular season record. They scored the most points while also allowing the fewest points.
The championship game started slow, in fact, there wasn’t a single first down in the first four possessions of the game — it’s the first time that’s happened in the Grey Cup since 1993.
The Bombers opened up the scoring about six minutes into the defensive battle after kicker Sergio Castillo made good on a 38-yard field goal. The points were set up by an Alden Darby interception, setting up Winnipeg in prime territory.
With a stiff breeze sweeping through the stadium, neither team could find any traction on offence. The Bombers would add a punt single to their score after Marc Liegghio bombed a 70-yard punt into the Hamilton end zone late in the first quarter. That ended the first frame with Winnipeg leading 4-0.
The four points in the first quarter was the lowest amount since the 2008 Grey Cup.
Dane Evans started the game at quarterback for the Ticats — the backup for most of the season rallied Hamilton from a 12-0 halftime deficit against Toronto in the Eastern Final, defeating the Argos 27-19.
He went 16/16, throwing for 249 yards and a touchdown in the game. However, against a stingy Bombers defence, Evans couldn’t get anything going. It took a quarter and a half for the Ticats to finally cross into Winnipeg territory
Masoli takes over
Down 7-0 after another Castillo field goal, Hamilton’s offence was driving down the field when Jefferson hit Evans in the head.
The play resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty. Evans layed on the turf for a lengthy time before walking back to the sidelines. He suffered a neck injury and would not return to the game.
That meant that Jeremiah Masoli, who started most of the season for the Ticats, took over at quarterback. Masoli would drive the Ticats all the way down to the Bombers five-yard line before getting stopped. That meant they’d have to settle for a field goal.
But Hamilton had more to come before halftime.
Masoli put together a 48-yard, two-play drive that only took 15 seconds to lead the Ticats into the end zone. Receiver Steven Dunbar caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Masoli, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
The fans roared as the halftime gun sounded with Hamilton up 10-7.
The defensive battle continued into the second half, with both teams trying to find traction offensively.
It was the Bombers who found a way to break through Hamilton’s defence to tie the game about five minutes into the third quarter after Castillo connected on his third field goal of the game.
But that’s when the Tiger-Cats’ defence took their play to a different level. Zach Collaros, the Winnipeg quarterback who just nights earlier was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player, was intercepted twice by Hamilton’s Kameron Kelly.
Kelly took his first interception back 47 yards all the way down to the Winnipeg 27-yard line. Not long after that, Brandon Banks caught a touchdown pass from Masoli to give Hamilton a 17-10 lead.
The Ticats took a 19-10 lead into the fourth quarter. They’d increase their lead to 22-10 after a field goal and that’s when the Bombers flicked a switch and scored 15 unanswered points before Hamilton forced overtime.
‘We just believe in each other’
The Ticats nearly won in regulation, marching all the way to the Bombers five yard line with time ticking down. But Winnipeg’s defence held.
“We just have a locker room of guys who believe in each other,” said Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill, who was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player this season.
“That might be the most adversity we’ve faced all year long. We just believe in each other. I’m so happy. This is crazy.”
Thousands of Bomber fans stayed late, lining the lowest level of the Tim Hortons bleachers cheering wildly as the players hoisted the Cup.
They went crazy for Winnipeg-born running back Andrew Harris.
“I’m proud of my teammates. I’m proud of my city. I can’t wait to bring this back to the province,” Harris said. “Our defence was amazing all year and we end it on a pick.”
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