By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Defensive lineman Jake Thomas was glad the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were in an early slugfest and then knocked off the Montreal Alouettes 31-21 on Saturday.
The teams were tied 21-21 heading into the fourth quarter when Winnipeg’s defence turned on its aggressive jets to help extend the team’s winning streak to nine games.
“I think adversity’s always good,” said Thomas, who had two sacks. “I think we’ve got to realize that it’s not always going to be sugar cookies and rainbows. We’re not always going to be up 45-0.
“I think today we were in a hard-nose football game and it’s fun to be in those games. It’s fun to be in the fourth quarter trying to shut them down when it really matters. They’re a good team and I’m sure it’s going to be another close one next week.”
It was Winnipeg’s (11-1) last regular-season game at home in the shortened 14-game CFL season and they went perfect. They hit the 7-0 mark in front of 22,933 fans at IG Field, the first time the club hasn’t lost at home since it went 8-0 in 1984.
The Bombers have already clinched first place in the West Division and will host the division final Dec. 5. Montreal (6-6) got a playoff spot when the B.C. Lions lost to Hamilton Friday night.
The teams play a rematch in Montreal next Saturday and Winnipeg finishes the regular season on the road in Calgary.
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros completed 21-of-33 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
He agreed the battle was a good test for the team.
“It was definitely great for us to face some adversity there,” Collaros said. “I thought Montreal played a really, really good game in all three phases.
“I thought we did what we needed to do down the stretch. Everybody kinda got that look in their eye in the third and fourth quarter and knew they needed to execute at a high level to win.”
Winnipeg’s defence still has only allowed two field goals in the fourth quarter all season.
Bombers middle linebacker Adam Bighill intercepted Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris with 1:54 left to go in the fourth quarter with the Als on third down with three yards to go.
Montreal lost veteran offensive lineman Philippe Gagnon early in the third quarter to injury. Head coach Khari Jones had no update after the game.
Harris, making his first start since being traded from Edmonton last month, was 14-of-25 passing for 177 yards with two TDs and two picks.
“I think our offensive line battled and I thought they played hard,” Harris said. “I just missed a layup on third and three. I can’t do that. That one’s going to stick with me for the remainder of the week.”
Newly acquired Winnipeg kicker Sergio Castillo connected on a 47-yard field goal with 1:23 remaining to make it 31-21. Bombers defensive back DeAundre Alford capped it off with another pick of Harris with 54 seconds left.
Jones said Harris did some good things in his first start, but the loss of Gagnon showed.
“I thought before Gagnon got hurt we were doing a pretty good job up front,” Jones said. “I felt like they were either timing up the snap count really well or they weren’t. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Collaros threw a 10-yard TD toss to receiver Nic Demski and a 24-yarder to Drew Wolitarsky. Backup quarterback Sean McGuire pushed in for a two-yard TD.
Castillo was also good on field-goal attempts from 22 and 34 yards and made all converts. He missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt and Montreal conceded a single.
Alouettes defensive lineman Jamal Davis recovered a fumble and ran 19 yards for a TD. Reggie White Jr. and Jake Wieneke both caught TD passes in the end zone. Kicker David Cote was good on three converts.
CFL-leading rusher William Stanback had 16 carries for 106 yards, taking the Als running back over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. He has 1,066 yards.
The game was tied 7-7 after the first quarter and 14-14 at halftime.
Montreal’s first possession of the third quarter ended with a TD toss to a wide-open Wieneke at 2:25.
The Alouettes’ defence kept bringing pressure and forced the Bombers to punt on their next two possessions, but then Winnipeg got back-to-backs TDs from Wolitarsky at 10:08 of the third and McGuire 29 seconds into the fourth.