Bombers overcome Alouettes, air horn to improve to 9-0 (& 11 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 35-20 at Percival Molson Stadium on Thursday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Digging deep

Winnipeg painted a masterpiece at McMahon Stadium in Calgary last week, putting forth one of the most impressive performances the CFL has seen in years. This week’s victory wasn’t nearly as pretty, particularly during a first quarter that resembled a fingerpainting smeared crudely on a piece of crumpled paper.

Zach Collaros threw an interception and lost a fumble in the first quarter as he was under siege from Montreal’s pass-rush. The offence generated only 17 yards in the opening frame, though it came to life early in the second quarter with a 104-yard touchdown drive that was sparked by a 35-yard pass to Brady Oliveira.

Winnipeg’s defence was stout throughout the game and limited the Alouettes to 276 yards of offence, 75 of which came in the final two minutes with the game already in hand. They forced Montreal into a turnover on downs in the red zone early in the second quarter before chasing Trevor Harris from the game following two fourth-quarter interceptions.

It’s easy to understand why the Blue Bombers weren’t at their best. The team was playing its fourth game in 19 days and third-straight game on the road. It was also piping hot in Montreal with the humidex reaching 36 degrees according to The Weather Network.

None of that mattered in the end. The club dug deep and got the job done to remain perfect on the season.

Horngate

A fan at Percival Molson Stadium spent the night blasting an air horn with the unbridled enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning. The constant honking was audible on TSN’s television broadcast, which caused quite a stir on social media.

The Alouettes received so many complaints that they addressed the noise on social media, tweeting: “We like the horn…stop messaging us.” They reference the air horn again during the fourth quarter, tweeting: “Thank you to everyone in Winnipeg who watched the game with surround sound tonight.”

I didn’t notice the air horn until it started to dominate the conversation on Twitter, after which I found it a little distracting. I’m all for fans making noise — nothing elevates a game more than a loud crowd — but it’s tough when the sound is so obnoxious.

With that said, I’m not sure Horngate was a bad thing. It generated a splash on social media, drawing attention to the league during what was a relatively poorly-played first half.

Ohioan opponents

Alouettes’ defensive back Najee Murray grew up admiring Zach Collaros in their hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, even serving as the waterboy while the quarterback was a star at the local high school.

Murray had an excellent game against his fellow Steubenviller (yes, that is what people from Steubenville are called), sacking him on a blitz in the first quarter before intercepting him on a deep throw just before halftime. He also knocked down a pass intended for Dalton Schoen early in the third quarter.

Collaros didn’t have a great game — he completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions — but ultimately got the last laugh with the win.

Janari-on fire

Janarion Grant replaced Greg Ellingson at slotback two weeks ago but failed to make much of an impact on offence. That changed on Thursday as he had three touches for 43 yards, one of which would have gone for a loss if not for his elite speed.

He also returned a fourth-quarter punt 57 yards for a game-sealing touchdown in what was his sixth career return score. He has now returned a kick for a touchdown in 23.1 percent of his 26 career games.

Pretty pick

If you haven’t already seen it, make sure to find a clip of Marc-Antoine Dequoy’s interception from late in the third quarter. Nic Demski had a would-be touchdown pass pinned to his shoulder when the second-year safety ripped it from his grasp while spinning to the ground. It was sensational.

Sackson Jeffcoat

Jackson Jeffcoat returned to the lineup after missing the past two games due to a hip injury. He came close to making two sacks in the second quarter, though one was negated by a penalty and the other saw Trevor Harris pitch the ball forward at the last second.

The reigning CFL all-star finally got his first sack of the year midway through the fourth quarter, forcing a key two-and-out. It was an impressive performance from Jeffcoat, though it would have been better had he not later delivered a low hit on Dominique Davis that drew a flag for roughing the passer.

Other defensive players who stood out were Demerio Houston — he did an excellent job covering Eugene Lewis, who made most of his catches working against other members of the secondary — and Ricky Walker, who brought fresh legs to the defensive line.

Schoen the way

Rookie sensation Dalton Schoen had another impressive game, making five catches for 58 yards and one touchdown. He entered the game with a league-leading six touchdown catches and now has seven — two more than B.C.’s Dominique Rhymes and Hamilton’s Steven Dunbar Jr., who each hold a share of second place.

Now that he’s a virtual lock to win Most Outstanding Rookie, the next question facing Schoen is which NFL team he’ll be playing for in 2023.

Labour Day

If there’s one CFL cliché that needs to be retired, it’s “the season doesn’t start until Labour Day.” People say it every year when we approach the midway point of the season as an excuse for teams with lousy records.

The Blue Bombers have reached the midway point of their season with a perfect 9-0 record. They’re 3-0 against B.C. and Calgary with six home games and three bye weeks left on the schedule. The club hasn’t officially clinched the West Division, but it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to overtake them at this point.

Winnipeg has accomplished this with the Labour Day Classic still a month away. The season doesn’t start on Labour Day. It starts in Week 1. Every win is worth two points whether it happens in June or November. Teams that struggle through the first half of the season don’t need pundits to make excuses for them — they need to find ways to get better.

Where’s Wieneke?

Is there a more disappointing player in the CFL this year than Jake Wieneke?

The third-year Alouette was one of the league’s best receivers in 2021, making 56 catches for 898 yards and 11 touchdowns. He made three receptions for 17 yards on Thursday night, bringing his season totals to 17 catches for 199 yards and zero touchdowns through seven games.

There’s still time for Wieneke to turn his season around, but his production has tanked so far this year.

Rookie respect

Tyson Philpot had a nice game for the Alouettes, making a 15-yard touchdown catch and returning a kickoff 60 yards up the sideline.

The rookie receiver didn’t have an impressive performance at the CFL Combine in March — nor did his identical twin brother, Jalen — but both have shown why they were first-round picks. The CFL needs more Canadian receivers to become impact players, so it’s nice to see the Philpot brothers having so much early success.

Disappointing discipline

Montreal took seven penalties for 71 yards on Thursday night in yet another display of poor discipline.

Rodney Randle Jr. took a 39-yard pass interference penalty working against Rasheed Bailey, setting up Winnipeg’s touchdown in the second quarter. Tyrice Beverette negated a sack by Adarius Pickett midway through the third quarter with a late hit on Jermarcus Hardrick. Mike Moore was called for pyramiding on a field goal attempt three plays later, extending a Winnipeg drive that ended in a touchdown.

The Alouettes were 1-3 when Khari Jones was fired supposedly due to the team’s lack of discipline. They have gone 1-3 since and their penalty issues have only gotten worse. It doesn’t take a genius to see that a coaching change was completely unnecessary.

Next up

The Blue Bombers (9-0) are scheduled to host the Alouettes (2-6) for the second half of a home-and-home series next week at IG Field. It will also be the team’s last game before their first bye week of the season, which will be a welcome break following a gruelling schedule to start the season.

Winnipeg currently has 399 home wins in franchise history, giving them an opportunity to become the first team in CFL history to reach the 400 mark. While the betting lines won’t be posted until Sunday or Monday, expect the Blue Bombers to open as double-digit favourites.