REGINA – It was a glorious run that covered 1,092 days and which — unfortunately for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — ended in a sudden and stunning fashion.
The Blue Bombers quest for a third straight championship – and a place as a modern-day Canadian Football League dynasty – was denied by the Toronto Argonauts Sunday night in a crushing 24-23 loss in the 109th Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium.
And with that, a season in which the club set a franchise record with wins comes up one victory shy of what would have been the club’s 13thchampionship.
“There’s a suddenness to this and there are no do-overs,” said a teary-eyed Dalton Schoen in the Blue Bombers sullen locker room afterward. “That’s why it’s so painful.
“It hurts that much more because of how much I care about these guys and how much I know they care about me. When your family goes through something traumatic together, it’s going to hurt… not to compare this to that, but that’s how it feels in this moment.
“We’ve been working for this all year, and it just hurts to not get it done.”
The final three minutes of Sunday’s Grey Cup were a snapshot of everything that can make the CFL so wild and wacky. The Blue Bombers had taken a nine-point lead at 23-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter courtesy of a Grey Cup-record 102-yard punt-return touchdown by Janarion Grant, but then failed to add to that lead.
At the same time, the Argos rallied behind back-up quarterback Chad Kelly – in the game after starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson had injured the thumb on his throwing hand – who led the attack to an A.J. Ouellette TD with 3:40 remaining.
That set up a series of crazy events, as Nick Hallett blocked a Boris Bede field goal with two minutes left, before Zach Collaros and the offence drove into position for a potential winning score – aided by a facemask penalty Robbie Smith on a third-and-13. Alas, Marc Liegghio’s 47-yard field goal attempt with 45 seconds remaining was also blocked.
And with that, the Blue Bombers reign was over.
“We put ourselves in a position to win at the end and they made a play,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “I’ve said this numerous times: the winning team is going to have a net difference of positive plays and they made a big play at the end. They made some other plays, obviously. We had our chance, and they made a big one at the end of the game. When they needed that one at the end, they got it.
“I would imagine pretty well everybody on the team would like to have one play back.”
The Argos defence limited Winnipeg to just 183 yards passing and 246 net yards while surrendering four sacks. Zach Collaros – who said afterward his ankle was not a factor – completed 14-of-23 for 183 yards and was intercepted once, by Argos linebacker Henoc Muamba, who was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian.
“It’s a quiet locker room right now,” said Collaros. “There were a lot of moments in the game where we could have done more to help the team win, starting with me.
“You’ve got to play four quarters. So, credit to them. They never gave up and for Chad Kelly to come in and do what he did is impressive, so hats off to him. But from offensive standpoint, I wish we had done more to stay on the football field.
“We’ll watch the tape and be disappointed. But it was an amazing year and I’m just really proud to be a part of this team.
“We’ve got a little more time to be teammates here for the next 24-48 hours – it makes me sad to say that – so we’ll enjoy some time together here as best we can after that result.”
The Blue Bombers will return home via a charter flight Monday morning before exit meetings and the annual season post-mortem – that coming for the first time in three years after a loss.
“This is what it feels like to be on the other side,” said cornerback Winston Rose. “At the end of the day, they made more plays than us. That’s a championship game right there.
“But I ain’t going to lie: this one hurts. This one hurts. This one hurts. It hasn’t truly hit me yet.
“We set a franchise record for wins this year, but this is the one that really counted. This just hurts to the core.”
THE BIG MOMENT:
The Blue Bombers had got the timely punt block from Hallett and locked and had moved into position for a potential game-winning field goal – or a possible single to tie the game – when the Argos burst through to block Liegghio’s 47-yard field goal.
THE BIG STAT
After Grant’s big score on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Argos then out-scored Winnipeg 10-0 for the rest of the game.
BLUE BOMBERS GAME BALLS
Offence: Brady Oliveira, RB: The Blue Bombers didn’t find much consistency in the passing game, but the Winnipeg tailback carried 15 times for 82 yards, including three carries of 10 yards or more.
Defence: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE: had two tackles, a strip-sack-fumble recovery, and a tackle for a loss.
Special teams: Janarion Grant, KR: Set a Grey Cup record with his punt return – his fourth of the season and second in as many playoff weeks after his 92-yard score in the Western Final win over B.C.
-Andrew Harris rushed 10 times for 55 yards and pulled in one pass for 14 in earning his third-straight Grey Cup ring and fourth of his career.
-The Argos have now beaten the Blue Bombers in eight consecutive Grey Cups, with the first seven coming in a stretch from 1937-50.
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