Bombers complete comeback over Stamps (& nine other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night by a score of 29-28 at IG Field.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

A fresh start(er)

Let’s start with this: watching Zach Collaros start a game for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers felt weird.

Collaros last suited up for Saskatchewan in the club’s season-opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He was knocked out of that game after taking a head shot from Simoni Lawrence early in the first half and subsequently added to the team’s six-game injured list. Two trades later — one to Toronto, followed by one to Winnipeg — he started on Friday in place of an injured Chris Streveler.

Collaros would finish the game 22-of-28 passing for 221 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

The veteran pivot threw the ball effectively at times but put the ball in harm’s way too frequently. He could easily have been charged with three picks had Calgary’s secondary not dropped a pair of errant throws.

The veteran’s best play of the game came on this eight-yard pass to Darvin Adams in the fourth quarter. Collaros can’t run like he used to, but showed some of his old scrambling ability to buy enough time to make the throw.

It’s hard to imagine Collaros going shot-for-shot with Bo Levi Mitchell or Cody Fajardo in the postseason, but he’s currently Winnipeg’s best option under centre. Provided Chris Streveler is healthy for the playoffs — he wore a boot on the sidelines during the game — starting Collaros while incorporating a few packages for Streveler would be the club’s best bet.

Point-ed criticism

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s easy to see how Calgary managed to lose a game they dominated in many statistical categories.

Rene Paredes missed a 47-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter as well as a convert in the third quarter. The missed convert was returned 122 yards for two points by Janarion Grant, creating a three-point swing.

There was also Dave Dickenson’s decision to punt into the wind from his team’s eight-yard line early in the third quarter. Rob Maver hit the ball poorly, sending it just 28 yards where Nate Holley was assessed a 15-yard no yards penalty. Winnipeg would scrimmage from Calgary’s 25-yard line and scored on its first play of the drive.

These are all small errors that would probably get glossed over in a victory. In a one-point loss, however, every point matters.

The hit

Wynton McManis tackled a sliding Zach Collaros early in the second quarter on a high hit that went unpenalized. The decision caused the crowd at IG Field to erupt with displeasure, booing the officials for the rest of the game.

Watching the replay, it appears McManis makes contact with the quarterback’s shoulder instead of his head. It’s also worth noting that Collaros slid relatively late — pulling up on a tackle is difficult when the defender has already committed to delivering a hit.

On the other hand, the CFL has penalized players for far less egregious hits this season. I also believe a flag would have been thrown had a bigger star — say, Bo Levi Mitchell — been the ball carrier on the play.

In the era of “player safety” (whatever that even means at this point) the CFL should err on the side of caution in situations like McManis’ hit on Collaros.

The officials did just that when Reggie Begelton was hit by Mercy Maston midway through the third quarter. Maston appeared to contact Begelton’s shoulder, but the hit was relatively high. I wasn’t offended by the call, but it had to be consistent with what the officials had called earlier.

Consistency is everything and the officials failed to call things as such on Friday night.

Timely defence

Bo Levi Mitchell had a field day throwing against Winnipeg’s defence on Friday night, completing 31-of-43 passing for 350 yards and a season-high four touchdowns.

Winnipeg made two changes in the secondary after Mitchell tossed for 337 yards and three touchdowns last week in Calgary. Marcus Rios was benched in favour of Mercy Maston at strong-side linebacker, while Mike Jones took over from Chandler Fenner at field-side cornerback.

Clearly, the adjustments didn’t have the intended effect. The Bombers struggled to generate consistent pressure on Mitchell for the second consecutive week and he made them pay for a number of big plays.

The unit held when it mattered most, however, forcing a two-and-out with less than three minutes remaining. Winnipeg didn’t get Mitchell off the field often on Friday, but they did when it mattered most.

Harris makes history (again)

Andrew Harris rushed for 64 yards on Friday night in a performance that made him the CFL’s all-time leading national rusher. Normie Kwong set that record in 1960 when he finished his 13-year career with 9,022 yards between Calgary (1948-1950) and Edmonton (1951-1960).

Harris finished the 2019 regular season with 1,363 rushing yards, which falls just short of a new career high. The 32-year-old set that mark last year with 1,390 rushing yards, though he dressed for all 18 games. This year Harris served a two-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Harris’ production also goes down as one of the best single-season rushing performances by a national player in CFL history. The top five all-time seasons are now as follows: Andrew Harris, 1,363 yards, 2019; Harris, 1,390 yards, 2018; Normie Kwong, 1,437 yards, 1956; Jon Cornish, 1,457 yards, 2012; Cornish, 1,813 yards, 2013.

Harris now sits 979 rushing yards shy of 10,000 on his career. Only five players in CFL history have reached that total: Charles Roberts, 10,285; Johnny Bright, 10,909; Damon Allen, 11,920; George Reed, 16,116; and Mike Pringle, 16,425.

Receiving woes

Kenny Lawler finished the regular season as Winnipeg’s leading receiver, he’s made 43 receptions for 637 yards and four touchdowns. This puts the rookie outside the league’s top 20 receivers on the year with many teams yet to play their final two games.

There are a few things that need to change this off-season in Bomberland — more on that in the coming weeks — but the addition of a true number-one receiver is one of them.

Darvin Adams isn’t a top target in the CFL. Neither is Lawler, Nic Demski or Drew Wolitarsky.

One way or another — be it via free agency, trade or scouting — this team needs to find an elite receiver to lead this offence through the air next season.

First-round production

Hergy Mayala has enjoyed an excellent month of October for the Stampeders. The first-round pick out the University of Connecticut has made 19 receptions for 303 yards and four touchdowns in as many games.

Mayala lacks the elite size and athleticism teams covet in top receiving prospects, but the Montreal native displayed a high level of route-running ability in the NCAA. Leading the Huskies in receptions in his junior and senior seasons, the 24-year-old has the skills to become one of Calgary’s top targets.

If you’re looking for a player with the potential to become the CFL’s next top Canadian receiver, Mayala should make the short list.

Season series

Friday’s victory secured the season series for Winnipeg over Calgary for the first time since 2009 and the first head-to-head record over .500 since 2002. The Blue Bombers defeated the Stampeders earlier this season at IG Field by a score of 26-24 with a 37-33 loss coming last week at McMahon Stadium.

Home sweet home

Winnipeg improved its home record to 8-1 on Friday night, securing the best mark since IG Field opened in 2013.

The club’s all-time regular season record at IG Field is now 31-32, which has improved steadily since a disastrous 7-20 start (2013-2015).

Bye, bye, bye

The Blue Bombers are scheduled for a bye next week before the West Semi-Final on November 10. The club is likely to be on the road for that game, but could still host Calgary if they lose next week in Vancouver. Saskatchewan would visit IG Field if Calgary loses next week and the Riders drop both of their remaining games.

It’s a long shot, but so was Zach Collaros starting a game for the Blue Bombers in 2019 (and winning it).

This is the CFL, after all. Anything is possible.