Bombers best Bo, advance to West Final (& nine other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 35-14 in Sunday’s West Semi-Final at McMahon Stadium.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

No-show Bo

Bo Levi Mitchell had possibly the worst game of his career on Sunday night, completing 12-of-28 pass attempts for 116 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. His lowest passing output from the regular season was a 252-yard performance in a victory over B.C. back in Week 2.

Mitchell is the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player for a reason — even at 29, he’s already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. He’s an incredible talent, which is why his poor play on Sunday was so shocking.

Mitchell threw for 687 yards and seven touchdowns in two meetings against Winnipeg this season. Evidently, the third time’s a charm for the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Hall of a performance

It’s clear that Mitchell wasn’t at his best on Sunday night, but Winnipeg’s defence deserves a ton of credit for shutting down Calgary’s offensive attack.

The Stampeders were held to 209 net yards in the West Semi-Final, averaging just 2.4 yards per play on second down. The Blue Bombers didn’t record a sack, but Mitchell was pressured often in the second half with Mike Jones, Nick Taylor, and Mercy Maston all recording interceptions.

Richie Hall has been the subject of criticism in Bomberland at times over the past few years, but Sunday’s game might have featured his unit’s best performance of the season. Full marks to him and his players.

Streveler rises

Chris Streveler fought through a number of injuries on Sunday to record 13 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown. The Bombers didn’t expect Streveler to be available early in the week but the 24-year-old somehow proved effective despite his ailments.

Most of Streveler’s work came in the second half, including 11 of his carries. Collaros attempted just eight passes after halftime, which is a clear indication that Winnipeg planned to rely heavily on the run game in the second half.

Streveler, Andrew Harris, and Nic Demski combined for 30 carries for 192 yards and two touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if Saskatchewan — a team that ranked second against the run during the regular season — can limit Winnipeg’s three-headed rushing attack next week.

The Zach came back

It would be unfair to praise Streveler without mentioning the play of Zach Collaros, his counterpart under centre.

Collaros completed 11-of-21 pass attempts for 193 yards and a 71-yard touchdown to Darvin Adams. It was a performance reminiscent of Matt Nichols, who was lost for the season due to a shoulder injury back in August.

If Collaros continues to protect the football while completing the occasional deep shot, there’s no reason this team can’t keep winning in the post-season.

Who are you?

Halloween was ten days ago, but the Stampeders wore a pretty convincing Blue Bombers costume during the first half of Sunday’s game.

Calgary ran the ball 11 times for 36 yards and a touchdown prior to halftime, grinding it out against Winnipeg’s first-ranked rush defence. The club also used special teams — Lorenzo Jerome had a sensational 50-yard punt return in the second quarter — to manage field position.

Running the ball? Controlling field position? Big returns? Conservative passing? These are all things we’ve grown to expect from Winnipeg over the past four seasons, yet Calgary used those tools to build a 14-8 halftime lead.

That success didn’t translate to the second half, of course, as the Stampeders were outscored 27-0.

Med-locked in (kind of)

I did an interview with Rob Maver this week in which he spoke about how he wants all-star voters to assess punting differently. The ten-year veteran also said he believes Justin Medlock had the best season in the West Division, excelling in net yardage and average opponent return.

Medlock didn’t have a good game punting the football on Sunday, booting the ball six times for a net average of just 24.3 yards. His first punt went for 11 net yards following a penalty, which led to a quick Calgary touchdown.

The veteran redeemed himself by going a perfect four-for-four on field goals, including a 52-yard kick in frigid conditions. He’ll have to be better in the punt game, though, in next week’s West Final.

Challenging decision

Dave Dickenson challenged for illegal blocking downfield early in the third quarter on Kenny Lawler… and lost. It was a foolish challenge, especially given the importance of the game.

Drew Wolitarsky made a 14-yard reception on the play, providing Winnipeg with a first down at their own 42-yard line. It wasn’t a huge gain, nor did it set the Blue Bombers up deep in Calgary territory. So why challenge it?

Losing the review left the Stampeders unable to challenge any close call down the stretch. It didn’t end up mattering, but the challenge still could have come back to bite Calgary. Dickenson needs to use his challenges more effectively moving forward.

All empires fall

The Stampeders have fallen short of the West Final for the first time since 2011 and just the second time in the John Hufnagel era.

If this is the end of Calgary’s 11-year run as the CFL’s top team — and it’s too early to declare that, in my opinion — the franchise deserves credit for an amazing run. Getting to the top is difficult, but staying there is much harder. The Stampeders have done that for over a decade, which is simply incredible.

The club has won three Grey Cups in six appearances over 12 seasons with players winning four Most Outstanding Player awards. That’s remarkable.

Jon Cornish was inducted to the Hall of Fame this year and many more Stampeders from this era should follow — including Brandon Smith, who played his final game on Sunday.

Bene on the side

Mike Benevides provided analysis from the sideline during Sunday’s game and did an excellent job. He provided strong insight, breaking down plays quickly and concisely in audience-friendly fashion.

If the 51-year-old doesn’t return to coaching next season — he served as Edmonton’s defensive coordinator from 2016 to 2018 — it would be great to see him working the sideline for TSN more frequently in 2020.

West Final

The Blue Bombers will travel to Regina for next week’s West Final. It will be the first time the clubs meet in the West Final since 1972 and the first West Final that doesn’t feature Calgary or B.C. since 2003.

Winnipeg and Saskatchewan met three times during the regular season with Saskatchewan winning twice. Cody Fajardo and Chris Streveler were the starting quarterbacks for all three contests.

The obvious storyline is Zach Collaros’ return to Regina, where he led Saskatchewan to a 12-6 record in 2018 while passing for 2,999 yards in 14 games. Collaros started for the Riders in Week 1 this season but suffered a concussion on a hit from Simoni Lawrence. After Fajardo won the starting job, Collaros was traded to Toronto before being shipped to Winnipeg at the trade deadline.

Winnipeg and Saskatchewan met in the West Semi-Final last year with the Blue Bombers winning 23-18 on the strength of 153 rushing yards from Andrew Harris. It should be an even better matchup this season as the clubs compete for a spot in the Grey Cup.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.