Blue Bombers not surprised to meet upset artist Montreal Alouettes in Grey Cup

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The Montreal Alouettes were double-digit underdogs against the Toronto Argonauts in the East Final on Saturday but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers weren’t shocked to see them record a 38-17 upset win at BMO Field.

“It wasn’t really a surprise to me. I kind of had my picks of how I thought the whole playoff scenario was gonna go and I had Montreal winning it and going to the Grey Cup. That’s a great group, their defence is playing light out, so that’s who’s gotten them this far. It’s gonna be a great, great test for us,” said star running back Brady Oliveira.

“Obviously with me being a competitor, I want to play against the best and the best units and that defence is the best right now (of the CFL’s other eight teams). It’s going to be a great challenge and we’re gonna prepare hard, one more week together to go honour our teammates and it’ll be a great challenge.”

Winnipeg swept the two-game season series against Montreal during the regular season, winning 17-3 at Percival Molson Stadium on Canada Day and again at IG Field by a score of 47-17 on Aug. 24. The Alouettes have improved dramatically since then, thanks in part to the emergence of defensive stars Darnell Sankey and Lwal Uguak. Sankey was signed as a free agent in September following a stint in the XFL, while Uguak was promoted to a starting role after being selected in the first round of the 2023 CFL Draft.

The Alouettes have now won seven straight games, including back-to-back playoff wins over Hamilton and Toronto. The club’s defence dominated the Argos and M.O.P. candidate Chad Kelly in the East Final, forcing nine turnovers as Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Kabion Ento both returned interceptions for touchdowns.

“It’s not really a surprise. From the last Montreal game when they played Toronto, I thought they were going to actually close it out,” said receiver Kenny Lawler. “I was actually kind of thinking Montreal was gonna come in — they’re kinda hot right now — and they went in there and did it. I really didn’t care who it was gonna be, I just expected to play someone from the east. It’s Montreal, so it’s time to get ready for them.”

This year marks the first time that Montreal and Winnipeg will meet in the Grey Cup. Winnipeg native Nic Demski was surprised to learn it the matchup had never previously occurred in the CFL’s championship game, which dates back to 1909.

“It kind of does, I’m not gonna lie, but I know Winnipeg probably had some down years when Montreal was up there. It’s funny, Montreal’s offence honestly back in the day was one of my favourite offences to watch, obviously with Calvillo and the group of receivers they had. It’ll be exciting. These are two new teams playing each other in the Grey Cup, that always makes for great storylines, so I’m excited for it.”

Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea knows Montreal Alouettes’ head coach Jason Maas well as they played against one another for nine seasons in the CFL before a two-year stint coaching together with the Argonauts. O’Shea served as Toronto’s special teams coordinator when they won the Grey Cup in 2012, while Maas was the quarterbacks coach.

Maas was fired as the head coach in Edmonton in 2019 and again as the offensive coordinator of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2022. He has now led the Alouettes to their first Grey Cup berth since 2010 and it’s clear O’Shea is proud of the success his former colleague is experiencing.

“They are a tough team. I’m sure it’s very exciting for them right now. On a personal note, I’m very happy for Jason Maas. He’s a winning coach and he gets put in a position where people don’t necessarily believe that but obviously he’s proved that again, so I’m happy for him and his group,” said head coach Mike O’Shea.

“I’m looking forward to matching up against him. Not against coach-coach, I’m just saying the teams. I think Montreal plays football the right away, too.”

The Blue Bombers have opened as significant favourites for the big game on Sunday, albeit to a lesser extent than Toronto was heading into the East Final. The oddsmakers gave Winnipeg a 5.5-point advantage when they lost to the Argonauts in last year’s Grey Cup, so the club knows what it’s like to suffer an upset on the national stage.

Despite their regular season superiority, it’s clear the West Division champions aren’t taking the Alouettes lightly ahead of Grey Cup week. Buckle up, folks. This should be a good one.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.