By Lethbridge Herald on November 22, 2023.
Inside the CFL
Another great Grey Cup, another glorious day for the CFL except for Winnipeg where dynastic dreams were dashed. Trying for their third championship in four years, the Bombers lost to the Montreal Alouettes, 28-24.
It wasn’t an upset. And even though the game marked the second year in a row the Westerners lost the Grey Cup in the last minute, Winnipeg didn’t blow it. Give full marks to the Alouettes.
The game was very well played with only five total turnovers and six penalties for 45 yards. I wrote the game would be settled in the trenches but that really wasn’t the case. The Bombers had two sacks, the Als four. Each team had over 100 yards rushing. The action ebbed and flowed from beginning to end-no let ups- Montreal scoring the winning TD with 11 seconds left on the clock.
Essentially it was a defensive struggle, the star performer being Montreal defensive back Kabion Ento who forced Brady Oliveira to fumble at the Als 27 yard line in the second quarter and who came up with a spectacular interception in the end-zone in the third. In the opening frame, with the Bombers on the Lark 19, Shawn Lemon just got his hand on Nick Demski’s heel and stopped him for a loss. The Big Blue had to settle for a field goal. The contest’s leading tackler was the other late-season signing Darnell Sankey who had eight tackles and a sack.
It was the game of a lifetime for Cody Fajardo although he played that well at times in Saskatchewan in 2019. He completed 21 of 26 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns, one interception. He engineered a brilliant drive in the last two minutes to win. He kept it alive when he ran for a crucial first down. With a 3rd and five, he connected with Cole Spieker at the Bomber 19. Then Calgary grad Tyson Philpot beat All-Canadian corner Demerio Houston a yard inside the end-zone. Over a million Roughrider fans cheered Cody Fajardo. Redemption.
During the Western final B.C. was having some success exploiting the Bomber secondary about twenty yards down field. Head coach Jason Maas exploited it big time, with essentially two receivers, most of the game, rookie Austin Mack who caught six passes for 103 yards as well as a major, and Spieker and Philpot who hauled in six passes for 63 yards and recorded 63 return yards. He was named the Most Valuable Canadian, although you could certainly make the case that running back Brady Oliveira deserved that award with his 119 yards and a TD. But to the victors go the spoils.
The first half was a nightmare for the Easterners where whatever could go wrong did, including a magnificent goal line stand at the Winnipeg one yard line in the last minute of the opening half. The Blue Bombers went to the dressing room with a 17-7 lead, confident matters were well in hand.
But the Als overcame the first thirty minutes and, after an excellent kick-off return, found pay dirt on the fourth play with a strike to Spieker . The Bombers came right back with a long drive, snuffed out when Ento intercepted in the end-zone. Zach Collaros threw to the well-covered Kenny Lawler ignoring the wide-open Drew Wolitarsky on the one yard line. It was his fourth interception in as many Grey Cup games, against three touchdowns. Sunday’s tilt was the second straight Cup where Collaros failed to throw a single touchdown pass.
Bomber boss Mike O’Shea likely was wrong to let injured linebacker Adam Bighill and receiver Darren Schoen make the decision to play. Although third in CFL receiving, he hadn’t practised for six weeks. Most former players would have done the same thing.
The great teams of the past made changes every year. There were no openings in the starting lineup at the 2023 Bomber training camp. When you stand pat, you always go backwards.
By last Sunday, Les Larks were the best team in the league. The late Cal Murphy told me that often what is called an upset, isn’t. The underdog was actually the overdog.
Throughout the last 10 seasons, only B.C. has failed to make it to the Grey Cup. Next year the big game is in Vancouver. Will the Lions roar in ‘24?