EDMONTON – In a way, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
After all, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a fourth-quarter team and have been for much of the 2021 CFL season. And it was in the final frame Friday that the Bombers flexed their collective muscle, pushing around the Edmonton Elks in the last 15 minutes to leave Commonwealth Stadium with a 26-16 victory.
Tied 16-16 following a late third-quarter touchdown by Edmonton, Winnipeg shut down the Elks the rest of the way and added 10 points off a Rasheed Bailey touchdown and Ali Mourtada field goal to seal the win and send a majority of the 24,276 in attendance home unhappy.
The Bombers entered the game outscoring their opponent 81-6 in the fourth quarter through nine games. Their average of 0.67 points against in the fourth is on pace for a CFL record. The defence ended Friday with two turnovers in the final 15 minutes, including a game-clinching fumble recovery with seconds remaining.
"At the beginning of the fourth quarter what we always say is ‘this is our quarter for the defence,’" Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson said. "We took the game over to give our offence a chance to put us over the top, to extend the lead and that’s what we did."
The victory extended the Bombers win streak to seven games, their lead atop the West Division further tightened at 9-1. It also secured them a playoff berth for a fifth straight year. The Elks have now lost five straight and remain in the basement of the West at 2-7.
Winnipeg finished with 353 yards of offence, compared to the Elks’ 243. Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros finished the game 15-for-24 passing for 210 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. Elks pivot Taylor Cornelius ended his night 17-for-29 passing for 187 yards and one score.
Bailey led all receivers with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, while running back Brady Oliveira, who replaced an injured Andrew Harris, paced all backs with 16 rushes for 105 yards.
"I’ve been a backup before, it’s not easy standing there on the sideline and staying ready and not playing however many games in a row and staying ready until your number is called," Collaros said about Oliveira. "It’s a testament to Brady, a testament to the team and to the guys next to him. He made the most of his opportunity."
The first half proved to be a battle of the defences, with just 18 combined points through the first 30 minutes.
Edmonton opened the scoring by forcing the Bombers to surrender a safety, giving the home side a 2-0 edge six minutes into the game. It was the first points the Bombers have given up this season from a unit other than the opposing offence (field goals are counted in offensive scoring).
The Bombers would answer back late in the opening quarter, taking a 3-2 lead with a 37-yard field goal from Ali Mourtada with no time remaining on the clock. Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea elected to stick with Mourtada, who was coming off a rough game against the Elks last week, ending the night 1-for-4, plus a missed one-point convert. He was four-for-10 in three games this season, including a 0-for-3 performance in Edmonton in Week 7.
Edmonton regained the lead on the next drive, putting together their longest series of the half – eight plays, 48 yards – but settled for a 34-yard field goal and a 5-3 edge.
Some trickery on a Bombers punt return, with Janarion Grant throwing a lateral pass to DeAundre Alford for a 41-yard gain, set up the Bombers on the Edmonton 40. Winnipeg would get as far as the Elks' 18, only for Collaros to get intercepted in the end zone on a pass intended for Nic Demski. It was the third time in as many games against the Elks this season that Collaros has been picked off in the end zone.
The Bombers offence finally found some life late in the half, sparked by a 47-yard completion from Kenny Lawler that brought the ball to the Elks' 11. Harris rushed six yards on the next play, then reeled in a five-yard pass for a Winnipeg touchdown and a 10-5 lead.
Harris was injured on the play, grabbing at his right leg while falling into the end zone. He was in noticeable pain but was able to walk, albeit gingerly, off the field. He didn't play another down in the half and was eventually ruled out ahead of the third quarter.
Edmonton answered with a seven-play, 47-yard field goal from Sean Whyte, who connected from 25 yards to cut the Bombers lead to 10-8 at halftime.
The Bombers wasted little time gaining momentum in the second half, opening the third quarter with a drive that resulted in a 27-yard field goal. It looked like it would be more, with the Elks charged with a roughing the passer penalty that would have put Winnipeg at first-and-goal. But the Elks challenged the play, and the call was overturned, resulting in the field goal and a 13-8 lead.
The Bombers kicking game continued to steal the spotlight, as Mourtada connected on another field goal, this time from 43 yards to take a 16-8 lead. Mourtada's longest field goal prior to the game was from 27 yards.
Just when it looked like the Bombers might pull away for good, Edmonton answered back in a big way. Elks head coach opted to sit starter Trevor Harris in favour of Cornelius, and Cornelius showed on the drive why he might be the man of the future.
Cornelius orchestrated a nine-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Shai Ross. Cornelius went three-for-three on the drive, including a 36-yard pass to Greg Ellingson. Backup quarterback Dakota Prukop punched in the ball for a two-point convert – one aided by a pass interference call on DeAundre Alford – to tie the game at 16-16.
It was the first touchdown the Bombers defence had surrendered in 11 quarters.
The Elks had a glorious opportunity to take the lead early in the fourth quarter after a pass from Collaros hit Elks defensive back Aaron Grymes in the numbers, with a wide-open lane to the end zone. But Grymes dropped the ball and the Bombers dialed up a 48-yard pass to Rasheed Bailey, who, two plays later, hauled in a five-yard pass for a touchdown, putting the visitors up 23-16.
"You can’t take plays off against anybody. You got to play hard all the time," O’Shea said. "We were playing hard, just maybe it wasn’t smart enough at times."
Bombers return home to IG Field next week to take on the B.C. Lions Saturday.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.