Best in the West: Blue Bombers advance to the 109th Grey Cup

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a date with history.

The two-time defending Grey Cup champions will get their shot at the CFL’s first three-peat championship in 42 years, thanks to their 28-20 Western Final win over the BC Lions.

The Bombers will face the Toronto Argonauts in the 109th Grey Cup on Sunday, Nov. 20 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sask.

Zach Collaros made 14 of 20 passes for 178 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Brady Oliveira broke the 100-yard rushing mark in his first playoff game as the Bombers’ starting running back and Janarion Grant added a punt return touchdown as part of a complete Winnipeg performance.

Nathan Rourke made 20 of 37 passes for 299 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, as the Lions’ season came to a close in front of over 30,000 fans at IG Field.

» Through the Lens: Lions at Blue Bombers pre-game
» Through the Lens: Western Final
» Boxscore: Bombers, Lions by the numbers 
» Watch: BC capitalizes on missed Winnipeg convert

Collaros got the Bombers the start they were hoping for with a six-play, 74-yard opening drive that he capped off with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Schoen. Marc Liegghio was unable to connect on the extra point, leaving the Bombers with a 6-0 lead.

The Lions would come up with an answer, but it was through some unconventional work.

Stefan Flintoft‘s punt attempt was blocked and recovered by Tanner Cadwallader at BC’s 16-yard line, but a review determined Flintoft was roughed on the play. The Bombers’ defence shuttled the offence off the field quickly anyway, but the game took an interesting twist after Flintoft’s second punt of the day.

Grant wasn’t able to pull in the dribbling ball and after it bounced between the teams, it was recovered by BC’s Matthieu Betts at Winnipeg’s two-yard line. Backup quarterback Antonio Pipkin came in and powered his way through the pile, gleefully spiking the ball in the snowy Winnipeg end zone. Sean Whyte‘s convert sailed through the uprights at 6:03, while the IG Field crowd chanted ‘BC sucks’ to put the Lions up 7-6.

Liegghio made up for his missed convert with a 44-yard field goal at 9:09 to put the Bombers back in front 9-7.

After a fumble from Lions’ running back James Butler, Collaros and the Bombers’ offence was back on the field, setting up shop at the Lions’ 42-yard line. Collaros opened the second quarter at BC’s 12-yard line and looked to the end zone for Greg Ellingson but was intercepted by former Bomber Marcus Sayles.

As Flintoft let another punt fly near the five-minute mark of the second quarter, Grant put his stamp on the game. The Bombers’ return man zigged and zagged 92 yards across the field to find the end zone, bringing the raucous crowd at IG Field to its feet. Liegghio’s convert at 5:19 pushed the Bombers’ lead to 16-7.

Grant’s trip to the end zone was the second-longest punt return touchdown in Blue Bomber history, with Jason Armstead’s 93-yarder in 2008 the record holder.

After Rourke found Dominique Rhymes for a 42-yard hookup to get to Winnipeg’s 34-yard line, the Bombers’ defence ensured that was as far as the drive would get. Rourke went through the middle on second down and Winston Rose was there to pull in the Bombers’ first interception of the game, though the Bombers were unable to turn the defensive play into points.

Following a 56-yard punt single from Flintoft, Liegghio closed out the half with a 24-yard field goal that put the Bombers up 19-8.

The Lions came out of their locker room and chipped into the Bombers’ lead with a 42-yard field goal from Whyte, 1:32 into the second half to make it an eight-point game.

Quarterback Dakota Prukop came in looking to finish the Bombers’ next offensive drive. He completed a pass to Rasheed Bailey, then ran the ball himself five yards to BC’s one-yard line and finally plunged in for the touchdown at 6:47, putting the wraps on a nine-play, 70-yard drive. Liegghio missed his second convert of the night and the Lions made him pay for it. Terry Williams took the errant attempt back a full 126 yards to add two points to the Lions’ total.

At the end of that long run — the first two-point return in CFL playoff history —  it was a 25-13 Winnipeg lead at 7:35. Williams was injured on his next return and left the game, with Keon Hatcher assuming return duties in his place.

On the heels of a Bombers’ short-yardage stop that forced a turnover on downs, Oliveira found a hole in the Lions’ defence and pounded the ball 25 yards to the Lions’ nine-yard line. The fourth quarter opened with a Winnipeg holding penalty nullifying an Oliveira touchdown. Collaros continued to look for his star running back, using him to get to BC’s nine-yard line. A Garry Peters knockdown brought Liegghio back out and his 16-yard field goal pushed the Bombers’ lead to 15 points at 1:53.

As the clock began to work against the Lions, the Bombers’ defence began to swallow them up. Rourke was swarmed under pressure and eventually threw into triple coverage, with Desmond Lawrence coming away with the interception.

Rourke remained undeterred. Despite the pressure, he found Alexander Hollins for a 14-yard touchdown strike, capping a five-play, 47-yard drive. Whyte’s convert at 12:17 made it a 28-20 Winnipeg lead.

With Collaros appearing to tweak his leg after being tackled, the Bombers turned to backups Dru Brown and Dakota Prukop on their ensuing drive.

Rourke led the Lions on a desperation drive with the game ticking into its final minute. He got the ball to the 55-yard line as the clock ticked down to zero, setting up a series of laterals from the Lions, but they were unable to get to the end zone, sending the capacity crowd at IG Field into a frenzy.

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