MONTREAL — The Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be squaring off on Thursday night for the second time in as many weeks, with the only difference being that the Alouettes will be the team on the road this week as they travel to Winnipeg for the Week 10 meeting.
The saying goes, ‘good teams find ways to win,’ and the Blue Bombers did just that in the first matchup with the Als, earning a 35-20 victory over Montreal in Week 9.
Tied 14-14 heading to the fourth quarter, the Bombers scored three unanswered touchdowns to secure the victory and remain the league’s lone standing undefeated team.
Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times, only his second multi-interception game of the season.
Despite his usually low turnover margin, the Bombers will need Collaros to take better care of the football against an Als defence that has now proven they are more than capable of forcing errors from the two-time Grey Cup champion quarterback.
Receivers Drew Wolitarsky and rookie standout Dalton Schoen led the way for Winnipeg, catching five passes each for a combined 148 receiving yards, respectively, with Schoen scoring a touchdown for the third consecutive game.
The receiving corps gets some reinforcement as Greg Ellingson will return from injury. Ellingson has been sidelined since the start of Week 7, prior to his injury Ellingson was catching 81 per cent of his targets, dropping just eight of his 42 attempts. The veteran receiver quickly built chemistry with Collaros, turning 34 catches into 518 yards, leading the league in both categories.
The run game continues to build momentum for the Bombers. Brady Oliveira rushed 17 times for 92 yards and a touchdown, finishing just eight yards shy of back-to-back 100 yard games.
The ground game will be important yet again as Winnipeg game plans for an Alouettes defence that has surrendered 901 rushing yards to opposing offences, the second most yardage total across the league.
The Als will also need to be prepared on special teams, Winnipeg’s Janarion gashed the Montreal coverage unit a week ago returning six punts for 125 yards and a touchdown, adding another 33 yards on two kick off returns.
In a team media session Grant said he felt he still has more fuel in the tank, a scary thought for opposing defences.
“I still feel like I have a lot more to work on, a lot more to prove,” Grant told BlueBombers.com. “I’m just taking it day by day, week by week – that’s the type of guy I am.”
Head coach Mike O’Shea knows how important special teams are and the type of player you need to be to excel like Grant did.
“It doesn’t even dawn on them that they’ve got the ball and they’re running as hard and as fast as they can into a storm of mass of humanity,” O’Shea told BlueBombers.com. “The best ones are absolutely fearless, that’s why not everybody can do it – not even the most talented, athletically inclined guys. Those guys can’t do it all the time, either. You have to have that intangible of being fearless.”
Not only does Grant appear to be fearless, he’s looking to strike fear into the Als defence for a second week in a row.
Defensively, the Bombers surrendered 279 yards and were relentless with their pressure on Als quarterback Trevor Harris. Defensive back Winston Rose and linebacker Adam Bighill each had an interception, while defensive tackles Jake Thomas and Ricky Walker, and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat each recorded a sack.
Harris completed 16 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, and threw a pair of interceptions. Harris will look to lean on his offensive line led by Sean Jamieson and Nick Callender to give him more time in the pocket to make plays.
As has been the case for just about every team this season, stopping league leading receiver Eugene Lewis was an issue for the Bombers.
Lewis caught nine passes for 123 yards, bringing his season total to 742 and giving him the league lead in the category. It’s no secret that the success of the Als offence runs through their star receiver, which will again be the case Thursday.
If the options aren’t available through the air, running backs Jeshrun Antwi and Tavien Feaster will need to find a way to gain yardage on the ground against a Bombers defence that is third best against the run, allowing 82.7 yards per game.
The Als defence held the Bombers offence to 14 points through three quarters, a feat they will look to replicate again. However, the focus will be on playing a full sixty minutes this time around.
Defensive back Najee Murray had an interception and a sack in the first meeting. Replicating that performance would go a long way in changing the result. Defensive back Adarius Pickett sacked Collaros twice, while Marc-Antoine Dequoy and Wes Sutton were the other two defenders who intercepted passes.
However, Sutton is listed as questionable and a game-time decision on the team’s depth chart.
The impact the Alouettes secondary had in the first meeting should come as no surprise. They’ve allowed an average of 257.1 yards in the air this season, good for third best in the league
The defence of the run on the other hand has been more of an issue. Montreal has given up 112.6 yards per game on the ground. Look for the Alouettes defensive front to put a focus on containing Oliveira this week.
Winnipeg is searching for their 10th straight win when they play host to the Alouettes Thursday. With one game against the defending champions already under their belt, the Alouettes are hopping for a different result this time around.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET from IG Field. The game can be seen on TSN, RDS, ESPN+ and can be followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.
– With files from BlueBombers.com.