Twice as nice: Winnipeg Blue Bombers win back-to-back Grey Cups

HAMILTON — After suffering through a 29-year Grey Cup drought, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have given their fans a new streak.

The Bombers downed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-25 in overtime on Sunday night at Tim Hortons Field, winning back-to-back Grey Cup championships, with the distinction of it happening in three years.

It’s the Bombers’ first consecutive championship-run since the 1961 and 1962 seasons.

Arkells and their halftime guests The Lumineers thrilled a sellout crowd of 26,324. The Bombers’ celebration was also one for the CFL, which successfully completed the 2021 season after losing the 2020 campaign to the pandemic.

Zach Collaros made 21 of 32 passes for 240 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Jeremiah Masoli was 20-25 for 185 yards, with two touchdowns and one heartbreaking interception.

Sunday’s game was the fourth-ever Grey Cup to go to overtime (1961, 2005, 2016).

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» Watch: Ticats and Bombers trade turnovers
» Under Centre: 1-on-1 with Sunday’s quarterbacks

After trading two-and-outs, the teams traded big plays. Hamilton’s special teams unit struck first, when Nick Cross stripped the ball away from Winnipeg’s Janarion Grant on a return. Felix Garand Gauthier knocked the ball out of bounds at Hamilton’s 49-yard line, bringing the offence back out on the field.

It would be a short stay for Evans and Co. His pass for Brandon Banks was deflected by Bombers’ defensive end Willie Jefferson and intercepted by defensive back Alden Darby. The Bombers got some points out of the turnover, thanks to kicker Sergio Castillo. His 38-yarder with the wind at his back gave Winnipeg a 3-0 lead at 6:44 of the first quarter.

Liegghio added a wind-aided 70-yard single at 12:29 to push it to 4-0.

The Bombers had some good fortune fall in front of them to close out the first quarter. A Joel Whitford punt shanked and went just nine yards, setting the Bombers up at the Ticats’ 30-yard line. Ja’Gared Davis’ eventual sack of Collaros quelled a promising drive, forcing the Bombers to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Castillo to make it 7-0 at 1:54 of the second quarter.

Winnipeg’s defence was the story of the lowest scoring first quarter in a Grey Cup in 13 years, as they limited Evans and the Hamilton offence to just seven net yards of production.

When they finally seemed to have some offensive momentum going, the Ticats lost Evans for the night. He slipped out of the pocket near midfield and took a pair of hits to the head, with the second as he was hitting the turf. An apparent neck injury took him out of the game — he made 4-9 passes for 24 yards with an interception — and ushered in Masoli.

Coming into the game cold with 7:10 left in the half, he kept the drive going enough for Michael Domagala to put his team on the board with a 13-yard field goal at 12:34, making it a four-point game.

Despite being thrown in, Masoli found his rhythm on a quick two-play drive that got the Ticats to the end zone. He found Don Jackson for a 36-yard gain up the sideline, then connected with Steven Dunbar Jr. from 12-yards out for the touchdown at 14:45 of the second quarter, with Bombers’ DB Winston Rose draped all over him.

Domagala’s convert went through to give Hamilton a 10-7 lead that they’d take into the half.

The Bombers came out looking to regain control of the game in the third quarter. Collaros aired out a 34-yard pass to Rasheed Bailey to get the Bombers to the Hamilton 27. On second-and-10 he found Darvin Adams for a 21-yard gain to get to the six-yard line. Hamiton’s defence stood strong though and forced the Bombers into a 15-yard field goal from Castillo that came at 6:49 of the third.

Kameron Kelly and the Ticats’ defence put its stamp on the game next, when Kelly got his hands on a Collaros pass — his first of two on the night — that was intended for Nic Demski. He ran it to the Bombers’ 27-yard line before he was hauled down. Four plays later, Masoli hit Banks with an 11-yard pass that the aptly-named ‘Speedy’ took for a major. Domagala’s convert sailed through the uprights at the end of the crowd’s oskee wee wee chant, as the Ticats went up 17-10. The Bombers conceded a safety at 14:28, giving the Ticats a nine-point lead.

Domagala stuck a 10-yard field goal at 3:18 of the fourth quarter, with the team settling for three points when it was on the doorstep of gaining a significant edge in the game. They went up 22-10, with Castillo sending a 20-yard field goal attempt through at 6:24 to cut the lead to nine, at 22-13.

With the Bombers on their heels and the clock beginning to work against them, they found their way back into the game. Collaros hit Demski with a 29-yard pass and the shifty receiver shook off a pair of Ticats’ defenders and dove into the end zone at 9:14 of the fourth. Castillo’s convert made it a two-point game and his ensuing kickoff with the wind at his back sailed 95 yards and went out of bounds for the single, making it a one-point game with 5:33 left to play.

Castillo confidently lined up again with the wind at his back to cap a 22-yard, six-play drive at 13:08. His 45-yard field goal put his team up 24-22, wiping out what was a 19-6 advantage. Castillo’s 76-yard single 13 seconds later put the Bombers up by a field goal.

Masoli and the Ticats mounted a desperate drive that went into the final minute of play. Masoli kept it alive with a crucial third-down conversion near midfield and worked the ball to Winnipeg’s five-yard line with 20 seconds to go. A handoff to Don Jackson was stopped on first down and a pass just inside the goal line for Acklin was knocked down by Deatrick Nichols.

Domagala made good from 13 yards out to tie the game at 25, with it destined for overtime.

In the first mini-game of OT, Collaros and the Bombers patiently worked their way into the end zone, with Darvin Adams pulling in the go-ahead TD. Rasheed Bailey secured a Collaros toss for the two-point convert, shifting all of the pressure in the game over to the host Ticats.

A penalty on their first play sent the Ticats back to their 43-yard line in a first-and-20. Masoli threw from midfield and had the pass deflected twice before it was intercepted by Kyrie Wilson, ending the game and sending the Bombers into a frenzy of celebration.

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