Boulevard of broken dreams: Montreal Alouettes upset Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 110th Grey Cup

Photo: Reuben Polansky/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Cody Fajardo led his team on a game-winning drive with under two minutes remaining, coming from behind in the fourth quarter to upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 in the 110th Grey Cup.

Fajardo threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns to be named the game’s Most Valuable Player, as the Alouettes secured their first championship victory in 13 years.

The Bombers began the game in classic fashion, with Canadian running back Brady Oliveira pounding out 32 yards on a 48-yard opening drive to set up a 25-yard Sergio Castillo field goal. After holding Montreal to a two-and-out on the ensuing series, Zach Collaros got the ball rolling again with a 26-yard strike to Kenny Lawler. Pressure from the Alouettes’ defence nearly stalled another drive in the red zone but Mustafa Johnson drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on an unsuccessful second-down scramble and Oliveira punched it in on the very next play.

Montreal responded quickly, with first-year standout Austin Mack boxing out perfect coverage from halfback Deatrick Nichols to haul in an exceptional 31-yard catch. Five-foot-seven, 174-pound rookie receiver Tyler Snead delivered a critical kick-out block on the following play, springing running back William Stanback for a 32-yard race to the pylon that shortened the lead to three at the end of the first quarter.

Winnipeg snatched back the momentum in the second quarter with a ridiculous 42-yard contested catch from Lawler off the scramble drill, but Montreal cornerback Kabion Ento promptly ripped the ball free from the arms of Oliveira to restore balance. A sack from Willie Jefferson hamstrung the free drive and the Blue Bombers’ special teams unit made up for a quick two-and-out when Brandon Alexander stripped exciting young returner James Letcher Jr. on a bouncing punt, allowing long-snapper Mike Benson to recover. Alouettes’ head coach Jason Maas’ challenge for no-yards on the play was unsuccessful and third-stringer Dakota Prukop capitalized with a quarterback sneak touchdown.

Down by two scores for the second time, Cody Fajardo orchestrated an efficient drive in the final three minutes of the half. The gears stopped turning once a 23-yard reception from Snead put them inside the five-yard-line, as Stanback was stopped short on first down. The Bombers stuffed Caleb Evans on consecutive sneaks for a goal line stand, with Shayne Gauthier coming over the top of the pile to force a turnover on downs and keep the score 17-7 at the break.

Clearly motivated by their previous failure to finish, the Alouettes emerged from the locker room with renewed intensity. James Letcher Jr. returned the second-half kickoff to mid-field before Austin Mack battled back against blanket coverage from Demerio Houston to make another absurd grab, this time gaining 33 yards with just one hand. Fajardo exploited an injured Adam Bighill on the next snap, finding Cole Spieker over the top for a 23-yard touchdown.

Winnipeg didn’t shrink from the challenge, going 56 yards in eight plays to get to the doorstep. However, rookie Kabion Ento’s big night continued in the red zone, dropping underneath a Lawler corner route in the back of the endzone for a critical interception.

Excellent defensive plays from both sides created a deadlock for the remainder of the frame before the Bombers generated another turnover of their own early in the fourth. Mack’s string of circus catches ended when Evan Holm snagged an over-the-shoulder interception, but Reggie Stubblefield killed the next offensive series with a hellacious sack on Collaros. After a short line-drive punt down the west sideline, Fajardo needed just three plays to take Montreal’s first lead of the ball game, letting Mack run in the hitch screen for a 13-yard score.

The deficit seemed to wake up the Bombers, with Janarion Grant nearly breaking free on the ensuing return after cutting back across the field. Collaros capitalized on the excellent field position with a nine-play, 46-yard drive, before Prukop powered another sneak in from four yards out. Tyler Snead couldn’t haul in a second-down pass across the middle when the Alouettes got the ball back and punter Joseph Zema shanked his third kick of the night, giving the Bombers a chance to ice the game.

Those hopes ended when Collaros ran into the waiting arms of Darnell Sankey on the next drive and Fajardo got the ball back down three with under two minutes remaining. A crafty second-down run and a back-breaking double move by Cole Spieker on third down kept the season alive, before the 30-year-old quarterback sent a bullet into the chest of Canadian receiver Tyson Philpot for a 19-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left.

Winnipeg was unable to execute a desperate onside punt for the win, as the Alouettes rushed the field to celebrate the eighth Grey Cup victory in franchise history and their first since 2010.