Blue Bombers left stunned by Alouettes’ comeback win in 110th Grey Cup
Published November 20, 2023 at 1:24 pm
HAMILTON — Surrounded by a circle of reporters in the wake of Sunday’s gut-wrenching Grey Cup loss, Brady Oliveira tried to share how he felt.
The words wouldn’t come out. The star Winnipeg running back buried his head in his hands, overcome by emotion and unable to talk.
The Blue Bombers, looking for their third CFL championship in four years, were stunned by a 19-yard Tyson Philpot touchdown reception with 15 seconds left that gave the underdog Alouettes a 28-24 comeback win before a crowd of 28,808 at Tim Hortons Field in the 110th Grey Cup.
“Back and forth (game) and they made a couple more plays than us,” said Winnipeg coach Mike O’Shea. “Credit (to) them. They came in hot and they did what they needed to do when they needed to do it.”
Asked what he was feeling post-game, O’Shea replied: “Nothing, right now.”
Quarterback Zach Collaros, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 236 yards with one interception, struggled to hold back his emotions as he went to the podium.
“Sad. You play to win the game, play to win the last one and we came up short,” he said. “Montreal was a few plays better than us. Just really sad, because there’s a lot of good guys in the locker-room.”
The Bombers also lost last year’s Grey Cup, edged 24-23 by the Toronto Argonauts. They beat Hamilton in 2019 and 2021.
Winnipeg led 10-0 in a first quarter that saw them hold the ball for 11 minutes five seconds and added a TD in the second to lead 17-7 at the break. The Als cut the lead to 17-14 early in the second quarter and went ahead 21-17 early in the fourth on Cody Fajardo’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Austin Mack.
Dakota Prukop’s four-yard run at 9:32 of the fourth put Winnipeg ahead 24-21. That set the scene for Montreal’s late-game heroics.
The Bombers waited until game time on linebacker Adam Bighill and receiver Dalton Schoen, who were both nursing injuries.
O’Shea paid tribute to both.
“The players have a great understanding of how hard they had to work to step on the field. And they understand the courage it takes. It’s uncommon in a lot of other businesses but in this sport you get a lot of guys that are doing everything they can to get on the field. And their teammates certainly recognize that and appreciate it.”
Schoen, who had not played or practised since Oct. 6 due to an ankle injury, credited the training staff for getting him ready while acknowledging he was not 100 per cent.
“I obviously wasn’t full out there,” he said. “I was limited a bit physically but I felt like I was good enough to play.”
He caught three passes for 36 yards.
Bighill suffered a calf injury in the West final win over B.C. and arrived in Hamilton in a walking boot. He started the game but needed some time on the sidelines after going down in the first half before returning to action.
“It takes a lot of work to get to this point, a lot of sacrifice,” said Bighill, who was beaten by Als receiver Cole Spieker for a TD in the third quarter. “It’s a kick in the gut when you don’t get what you want, what you work hard for. But that’s the nature of the sport right.”
He said he felt “good enough to go” after being taped but said the decision to play went right down to the wire.
Oliveira did eventually speak to reporters after taking a few minutes to compose himself.
“It’s not going to be the same going to work next year because I know it’s not going to be the same guys in this locker-room,” he said. “I really wanted to win it for the guys that haven’t got a chance to experience it, my running backs coach (Jason Hogan) in particular. I feel like I let him down.”
Oliveira finished with 120 yards and one TD on 19 carries, doing most of the damage early in the game.
The Bomber defence had its moments, forcing a fumble by Als punt returner James Letcher Jr. late in the first half on a hit by Brandon Alexander with Mike Benson recovering.
Montreal backup quarterback Caleb Evans was stopped twice on quarterback sneaks from the one-yard line as the Bomber defence came up big on the stroke of halftime.
Winnipeg’s Evan Holm intercepted a Fajardo pass intended for Mack.
But Montreal kept upping the ante. Winnipeg ran out of time.
“Just a couple of plays short,” said Bighill.
Winnipeg (14-4) won both regular-season meetings with Montreal (11-7) en route to finishing atop the West Division. The Bombers’ Grey Cup record fell to 12-16.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
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