By Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press
Tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers dug deep to keep their undefeated season intact.
The Blue Bombers (9-0) powered through with three touchdowns to grab a 35-20 win over the Montreal Alouettes at Percival Molson Stadium Thursday.
Dakota Prukop restored Winnipeg’s lead on a one-yard sneak. Janarion Grant then threw a cold shower on the home crowd with a 57-yard punt return. Brady Oliveira sealed the victory with a late six-yard rush.
“I think that’s the toughest situation as our guys have been in,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “Full marks to Montreal, they took the ball away early and often and our guys just kept on grinding and digging.
“I think Janarion’s punt return touchdown, the timing on that is right on time.”
Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 210 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. The back-to-back Grey Cup champions snapped a two-game losing streak in Montreal.
Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris threw for 127 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Dominique Davis added a late touchdown pass.
After six games on the road in their first nine and without a bye week yet, the Bombers expected a physical game in Montreal. The Alouettes defence got to quarterback Zach Collaros, limiting the Bombers to only seven points in the first half.
“It was physical. It was as tough a contest as there was,” said O’Shea. “It was humid, hot. They were very physical. They brought it and our guys responded very well which is what you’d expect from our guys. They expect that from themselves, really.”
Oliveira described the game as “a dogfight” adding that all three phases of the team contributing was a big factor for Winnipeg’s unbeaten record remaining intact. For the running back, “the grind” has been a motivating factor for the team looking for a third consecutive Grey Cup.
“It definitely was a grind for sure,” he said. “It was a tight game. For most of the game on the sidelines, there was just so much belief and that word grind, like just just fall in love with the grind, embrace the grind. And that’s exactly what we did.”
The Alouettes (2-6) stood up to the Bombers with physicality, but the loss stung nonetheless.
“Obviously this loss hurts. It hurts the way we reacted after the touchdown when it was 14-14,” said Alouettes head coach Danny Maciocia. “We’re not able to handle a little adversity and we’re looking for problems.
“I think that we need to get back to work and look at everything and make decisions that will give us a chance to fix those problems and to get some wins.”
Montreal will have a chance at redemption next week when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Bombers in the second of back-to-back matchups.
“We’re expecting the same kind of football, we expect a physical rematch at IG Field,” said defensive lineman Willie Jefferson. “We know they’ll come trying to get us back for beating them at home. It’s going to be a tough game.”
The Alouettes shocked the Bombers on the first drive of the game when Wesley Sutton intercepted Collaros and instantly placed Montreal in scoring position.
However, Winnipeg’s defence limited the damage to a field goal as David Cote placed a 24-yard attempt through the uprights for an early 3-0 lead.
Winnipeg took the lead in the second quarter when a 39-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Montreal’s Rodney Randle Jr. placed the visitors on the nine-yard line. Collaros found Dalton Schoen for Winnipeg’s first touchdown.
Cote followed that up with a 49-yard field goal to cut the Bombers’ lead to one.
The Alouettes handed Winnipeg a chance at a touchdown with a pyramiding penalty on a field goal attempt, giving the Bombers a fresh set of downs. Collaros notched his second TD of the night with a five-yard pass to Rasheed Bailey.
Tyson Philpot helped Montreal tie the game on the next drive. The rookie returned Winnipeg’s kickoff 60 yards and then two plays later, caught Harris’ pass in the backfield and swerved through the defence to score Montreal’s first touchdown. Dominique Davis rushed into the end zone for the two-point conversion, bringing the score to 14-14.
Second-string quarterback Dakota Prukop helped Winnipeg regain its lead with a one-yard score.
Grant returned Montreal’s punt 57 yards all the way into the end zone for the visitors’ fourth touchdown of the night.
The Bombers closed their fourth quarter domination with a six-yard rush by Oliveira.
The Alouettes added a late touchdown when Davis found Reggie White Jr. on a 20-yard pass.