By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Brady Oliveira was determined to help his team get back to the Grey Cup championship game for the third straight time.
In his first start in the CFL West Division final, the Blue Bombers’ running back rushed for 130 yards on 20 carries to lead Winnipeg to a 28-20 victory over the B.C. Lions on Sunday afternoon.
Oliveira, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, also caught four passes for 37 yards before 30,319 noisy fans at IG Field.
“Talking about that 1,000 yards, that’s great and all,” Oliveira said. “But all I want to do is honour my teammates and give my all every single week and go out there and try to perform to the best of my ability to help this team win football games and help us be where we want to be at the end of the year, and that is winning a Grey Cup.
“Starting in the West final, it’s another football game, but we were hungry, I was hungry and we ended up moving it on the ground today.”
The Bombers are now one win away from winning three consecutive CFL championships for the first time in franchise history. And they could win three consecutive Grey Cup titles for the first time since 1982 (Edmonton) when they take on the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup game in Regina next Sunday. The Argos defeated the Montreal Alouettes 34-27 in the East Division final.
“I just want to win another Grey Cup,” Oliveira said. “I want to bring another Grey Cup back to the city.”
Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros completed 14 of 20 passes for 178 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dalton Schoen, with one interception.
Bombers’ returner Janarion Grant also returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and backup quarterback Dakota Prukop scored on a two-yard TD run.
Winnipeg placekicker Marc Liegghio kicked field goals of 44, 24 and 16 yards, but connected on only one of three convert attempts.
“Brady was awesome,” Collaros said. “They really pushed the pile up front. And Brady was making guys miss and breaking tackles, at least from my vantage point, and I have a great vantage point from back there. He was just physical as all hell.”
Although Collaros left the game with a leg injury in the final two minutes, he said he will be able to start next week.
Grant made amends for fumbling an earlier punt return, which led to B.C.’s first touchdown.
“It felt glorious,” Grant said. “I hate mistakes, but things happen. You’ve just got to scratch it and just move on to the next play.”
It was the second-longest punt return in Bombers playoff history. Jason Armstead returned one for 93 yards in 2008. It gave the Bombers a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter.
“Huge momentum shift right there,” said Bombers’ linebacker Adam Bighill. “Huge, huge part of the game right there.”
B.C. quarterback Nathan Rourke completed 20 of 37 passes for 299 yards, including a 14-yard TD toss to receiver Alexander Hollins, in his first start in a West Division final. Backup quarterback Antonio Pipkin also scored on a two-yard run after defensive lineman Mathieu Betts recover Grant’s fumble at the Winnipeg eight and carried to the two.
Sean Whyte booted a 42-yard field goal and kicked two converts. Punter Stefan Flintoft kicked a 56-yard single and returner Terry Williams also scored two points on a missed convert return.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted to,” Rourke said. “I didn’t think it was necessarily anything they were doing that was special. We were really kicking ourselves. We had some breaks go our way early (Grant fumble), which was great. We were able to stay in it, but it was just a little too late when we got into a rhythm. You can’t do that against a good team like Winnipeg.”
Rourke threw two picks which didn’t help.
The Bombers had taken a 16-8 halftime lead on Liegghio’s 24-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
But the Lions made it interesting in the second half, pulling to within 28-20 on the Hollis touchdown with less than three minutes left in the game. But their last-minute desperation drive fell short.
The crowd noise affected Rourke’s play calling.
“It was difficult to communicate,” Rourke said. “I was getting the calls in, but I was having a hard time enunciating and being able to scream and yell. Credit to the Winnipeg fans. That’s why you go for home field advantage, right?”
The Bombers also gave a shout-out to their boisterous supporters.
“The difference in the game were a lot of big momentum plays that happen,” said Lions head coach Rick Campbell.
“They’re a really good team and you have to play well against these guys, as you know. Just look at their record (15-3) this year. You have to play really well to beat those guys and they made more plays than we did. … So, I’ll give them credit. They won and they played better than us today.”