Blue Bombers beat Stampeders in CFL’s game of the year (& 13 other thoughts)

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 35-28 on Saturday night in front of 25,147 fans at McMahon Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Are you not entertained?

This was the most highly-anticipated game of the CFL season thus far and it lived up to the hype, delivering the most entertaining contest of the year.

Winnipeg and Calgary combined for 63 points, eight lead changes, 788 offensive yards, and six touchdowns in a game that was thrilling from start to finish. It was also an exceptionally clean game as the teams combined for just six penalties, zero turnovers, zero sacks, and zero missed field goals.

With training camps opening across the United States, don’t bother arguing with the next person who tells you the NFL is the only football league worth watching — just send them a copy of Saturday’s game.

This was the CFL’s best game of the year and I doubt it’ll be surpassed at any point over the course of the regular season. Bravo to both teams.

Demski returns

Nic Demski returned from an ankle injury that caused him to miss a month of action and did not show any signs of rust despite not practicing all week. He caught seven passes for 69 yards, including two key second-down conversions on Winnipeg’s final drive of the game. Oh, and he also scored two touchdowns.

I recall an old interview with Doug Flutie in which the legendary quarterback revealed that he would always go right back to a receiver following a drop. If they caught the subsequent pass, they would have regained their confidence. If they dropped the ball again, Flutie wouldn’t go back to them for the rest of the game.

Demski dropped his second target of the game, a would-be touchdown that was thrown 16 yards into Calgary’s end zone. Collaros went right back to him three plays later for a four-yard score and again on the following drive for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

Brady breaks out

Brady Oliveira finally had his breakout game of the regular season, rushing 15 times for 110 yards and catching two passes for 16 yards. He entered Saturday’s game with a season-high of 62 rushing yards last week against the Edmonton Elks and zero carries over ten yards in length.

“That o-line is doing a great job helping me to get to the second level,” Oliveira told CJOB postgame. “Obviously it was great for my confidence, but I owe it all to those guys up front.”

Oliveira believes that his success came as a result of “sticking to the basics” as a “north-south runner.” He also indicated that he may have been too focused on looking to break home runs instead of grinding out the type of physical carries that made him a second-round pick in the 2019 CFL Draft.

Winnipeg’s coaching staff does not speak ill of players publicly but I’d imagine that Oliveira faced criticism behind closed doors following his slow start to the season. Though he was never replaced as the starter, Johnny Augustine’s role in the offence noticeably increased until he suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago.

After Oliveira’s performance in Calgary, there won’t be any more questions in Bomberland regarding who the team should be starting at running back. He looked like a worthy successor to Andrew Harris and will hope to carry that momentum into next week’s game at Percival Molson Stadium.

The offensive line also deserves all the credit Oliveira gave them during his postgame interview. The unit opened holes consistently and did an excellent job of protecting Zach Collaros, preventing him from being sacked. It was the offensive line’s best game of the season so far and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Schoen the door

3DownNation contributors selected award winners for the first third of the CFL season this past week and all three players who received votes for Most Outstanding Rookie played in Saturday’s game. Winnipeg receiver Dalton Schoen got the most votes, while Calgary strong-side linebacker Titus Wall was the first runner-up.

Schoen and Wall faced off two weeks ago and the defender had the upper hand, recording four tackles and two sacks. Schoen flipped the script at McMahon Stadium, making four catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns. His first score came after he beat Wall on a corner route for a 26-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Underrated M.O.P.

Zach Collaros is the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup Most Valuable Player but he might also be a little underrated.

Coming off a rough game in Edmonton, Collaros outduelled Bo Levi Mitchell on the road, completing 22-of-30 pass attempts for 270 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. It was his first four-touchdown performance as a member of the Blue Bombers and he’s on pace to improve on virtually all of his award-winning numbers from a season ago.

Nathan Rourke has dominated headlines this season and was 3DownNation‘s pick to win Most Outstanding Player in our recent early-season award selections. I chose Rourke when completing my ballot, but I might have voted differently had the tally been taken place after Saturday’s game. Collaros was simply sensational.

Standings

Winnipeg has already clinched the season series against Calgary, which is a huge advantage in the competitive West Division. They’ve also got a game up on the B.C. Lions, a team they will not face again until a home-and-home to wrap up the regular season at the end of October.

There is still plenty of football to be played this season, but it’s starting to feel like a foregone conclusion that IG Field will play host to the West Final for a second consecutive season. If that doesn’t happen, it will only be because of an epic collapse in the second half of the season from the Blue Bombers.

Streak over

Ka’Deem Carey ran for a two-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter, which was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Blue Bombers this season. The club went 456 minutes and 36 seconds without allowing one — that’s over 30 quarters of work — but allowed a second one before the quarter was out.

Race to 400

The Calgary Stampeders squandered a chance to become the first team in CFL history to record 400 home wins. The team entered the season with a 397-213-10 home record and improved to 399-213-10 following victories earlier this season over the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Elks at McMahon Stadium.

The Blue Bombers entered the season with a 396-245-5 home record and have won all three of their home games this year, improving to 399-245-5. They will have a chance to become the first team to record 400 home wins when they host the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday, Aug. 11. If Winnipeg loses to Montreal, Calgary will have another chance to achieve the feat on Saturday, Aug. 13 when they host the B.C. Lions.

Edmonton ranks third with 397 home wins, a number they’ve been stuck at since Oct. 12, 2019, amid a streak of eleven consecutive home losses. Toronto ranks fourth with 381 home wins and Saskatchewan sits fifth with 356 home wins.

Red zone struggles

The Stampeders struggled to convert on scoring opportunities in the first half, settling for field goals on each of their first four possessions.

Calgary’s first drive ended with a drop from boundary wide receiver Malik Henry, though he was eight yards shy of the first down. The second drive finished when Bo Levi Mitchell overthrew an open Reggie Begelton, then the third drive ended on a knockdown by Deatrick Nichols. The fourth drive came to an end after Peyton Logan ran for nine yards on second-and-long to set up a field goal.

The Stampeders had much more success in the red zone in the second half because they kept Ka’Deem Carey involved, allowing him to punch in both touchdowns. Carey is Calgary’s best player and they need to avoid abandoning him in the red zone.

Hallett the mallet

Third-year defensive back Nick Hallett made his first career start at safety after Malcolm Thompson was ruled out due to a calf injury. He recorded five tackles and made one of the biggest plays of the game when he knocked down a pass intended for Reggie Begelton to force a punt with a little over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Hallett had to wait 39 games to get the first start of his career and I think he made the most of it — not bad for a seventh-round pick.

Stocking full of Cole

Brian Cole II was a seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the 2020 NFL Draft but was released by the team at the end of training camp. He has since been a member of the Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Edmonton Elks, and Saskatchewan Roughriders, but didn’t dress for his first professional game until Saturday with Winnipeg.

The 25-year-old was blocking for Janarion Grant late in the second quarter when a defender spun him into the return specialist, knocking him to the ground. He laid on the ground momentarily after the play with his face in his hands, clearly embarrassed by what had just happened. Keep your chin up, Cole. Things can only get better from here.

Walking wounded

Calgary lost two of their best players to injury in the second half as centre Sean McEwen and boundary cornerback Tre Roberson left the game and did not return. Both will be huge losses for the team if they are out long-term.

Winnipeg did not suffer any injuries that I noticed, which is good news considering they are still without stars such as Greg Ellingson (hip), Jackson Jeffcoat (hip), and Brandon Alexander (knee).

Nice touch

The Stampeders sported a custom helmet decal in memory of Doug Mitchell, the team’s minority owner who passed away last week at the age of 83. Mitchell previously served as the commissioner of the CFL and was an avid supporter of Canadian football at the amateur and professional levels. It was a classy touch by the organization to honour a man who will be missed by many across the country.

Next up

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-0) are scheduled to visit the Montreal Alouettes (2-5) on Thursday evening, giving them only four days to rest between games.

It’s an unfavourable bit of scheduling, especially considering Winnipeg had to fly across the country on a short week earlier this month. The team passed that test with flying colours — they crushed the previously undefeated B.C. Lions by 21 points on four days of rest — and they’ll have to do it again in La Belle Province to remain undefeated.