The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are headed to their fourth-straight Grey Cup game after knocking off the B.C. Lions in the Canadian Football League (CFL) Western Final on Saturday night.
Winnipeg beat B.C. 24-13, punching its ticket to the league championship game thanks to its rugged defence, dialled in offence and a stadium packed with more than 30,000 fans who braved the November cold.
The team’s victory is also a franchise-record fourth consecutive appearance in the CFL’s championship game.
“Personally, I’ve never been a part of something as dominant as this is,” said Blue Bombers linebacker Willie Jefferson, who had two of the team’s nine sacks Saturday night.
“I’m happy to be a part of this team, happy to be a part of this organization. These guys: we fight for one another every day.”
B.C. opened the scoring in Saturday’s contest with a 48-yard field goal from Sean Whyte. Running back Brady Oliveira put the Blue Bombers in the lead late in the opening frame, punching in an eight-yard touchdown.
Blue Bombers kicker Sergio Castillo drilled the convert, much to the delight of the home fans who rained down chants of “B.C. sucks” in the background.
Saturday’s game also marked the fifth-straight sellout of IG Field by the Blue Bombers. Just hours before kickoff, the team announced on social media there were only 150 tickets available for the event.
“We love our fans, we know our fans love us,” said Jefferson. “They’re a part of us just as much as the coaching staff, the training staff, the cooks, the kitchen staff, the guys that come in and clean up and everything. Our fans mean everything to us.
Blue Bombers defensive back Nick Hallet brought the fans to their feet in the second quarter, blocking a punt, recovering the ball and then taking it to the house for a touchdown. Hallet’s score put the Blue Bombers up 15-3.
🚨 NICK HALLETT HERO MODE 🚨<br><br>Punt Block TD + All-Time Crowd Pop 💥<br><br>WATCH ON TSN, RDS<br>📲 Stream on CFL+ <a href=” <a href=”https://t.co/WARQ38lpI5″>pic.twitter.com/WARQ38lpI5</a>
“He’s one of the leaders on our special teams unit,” said Oliveira . “He takes pride in the work that he puts out there and the work that he puts in throughout the week to go out there and have good performance on special teams and to lead that unit.”
Excited fans unfazed by cold
Saturday’s action wasn’t just confined to inside the stadium at IG Field.
Many more fans braved the elements in the Bombers’ tailgate area, enjoying the team’s 18-10 lead at the halftime break.
“This is Winnipeg.… This is spring weather for us. This is nothing for us,” said lifelong Blue Bombers fan Jordan Demchuk.
Fans Deana and Paul Cayer had been partying long before the game.
“It’s awesome. It’s so, so wonderful,” she said. “The spirit of Manitoba is just amazing. I love it.”
Paul added while the recent run has been “unbelievable,” there were even good times during the team’s 29-year Grey Cup drought.
“Over the last few years there’s just been nothing but positive,” he said. “But even over the lean years, we’re still fans.”
Back inside the stadium, Whyte drilled a 43-yard field goal with under five minutes in the third, capping up a six-play, 44 -yard drive for the visitors, who cut Winnipeg’s lead down to five points. It was also the only scoring play of the quarter.
But Blue Bombers defensive back Demerio Houston brought the home fans to their feet with an interception and 21-yard return to start the final frame. Houston’s interception led to a Winnipeg scoring drive, which saw Castillo cash in on a 10-yard field goal.
A successfully challenged pass interference call with under five minutes left in the game put Winnipeg in prime position to score and add to their 21-13 lead. While they couldn’t convert for a touchdown, Castillo made good on the field goal.
Castillo also converted on a 35-yard field goal toward the end of the game, ultimately stealing a 24-13 victory.
All eyes on Grey Cup
Winnipeg’s focus now turns to Nov. 19 in Hamilton following their second-straight win over B.C. in a CFL Western Final Saturday night. They’ll meet the Montreal Alouettes for the chance to take home the CFL’s top prize.
A Grey Cup rematch from last year wasn’t meant to be, as the Toronto Argonauts lost to Montreal earlier in the day. However, the Blue Bombers aren’t taking the competition lightly.
“Wasn’t really a surprise to me,” said Oliveria. “I kind of had my picks how I thought the whole playoff scenario was going to go and I had Montreal winning it and going to the Grey Cup, so that’s a great group. Their defence has been playing lights out.”