By Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press
Quarterback Zach Collaros made no excuses after the Toronto Argonauts upset the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers 24-23 Sunday in the CFL title game.
Collaros, the reigning two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player, sat in front of the media after the stunning setback and tried to explain why the heavily-favoured Bombers lost to the Argos.
“I don’t think that we got into a good rhythm at any point in the game offensively,” said Collaros, who finished 14-of-23 passing for 183 yards and one interception.
“We were able to put together a few good drives here and there, but we weren’t efficient enough on first down, running or passing the football, and that starts with me. I have to do a better job to help the team win.”
The Bombers, who topped the West Division with a 15-3 regular-season mark, looked to take control of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. Janarion Grant returned a punt 102 yards for a touchdown to put the Bombers ahead 23-14. It was the longest punt return touchdown in Grey Cup history.
Just over two minutes later, Toronto kicker Boris Bede narrowed the gap to 23-17 with a 36-yard field goal. The Argos restored their lead with 3:24 remaining in the contest on a five-yard touchdown run from A.J. Ouellette.
Toronto looked to build on its lead with 2:09 left with a 42-yard field goal attempt by Bede, but it was blocked by the Bombers. Collaros then led Winnipeg into field-goal range with kicker Marc Liegghio to attempt a 47-yarder with 54 seconds remaining.
Argos defensive end Robbie Smith blocked the kick and Toronto ran out the clock to seal the victory.
Collaros, who suffered an ankle injury in the West Division final against the B.C. Lions on Nov. 13, didn’t appear to be limited by the injury. He did, however, have issues eluding the Argos pass rush, which collected four sacks.
“You’ve got to play four quarters, so credit to them. They never gave up … From an offensive standpoint, I just wished we did more to stay on the football field,” said Collaros. “We’ll watch the tape and be disappointed, but again, it was an amazing year and I’m just really proud to be a part of this team.”
The Bombers were chasing their third straight Grey Cup championship, a feat last achieved by the Edmonton Eskimos who won five straight titles from 1978 to 1982.
However, Collaros doesn’t believe the lofty expectations put additional pressure on the Bombers.
“I really don’t think so. I’m not sure that ever truly puts pressure on any team and we certainly have a very mature group, a veteran laden team,” said Collaros. “We just care a lot, so we put pressure on ourselves, no matter what. The guys worked their tails off all week long preparing for this football game, because it was the next game.
“Somebody’s got to win.”
Although Collaros felt there were things the Bombers could have done better in order to win, he also credited the Argos for their performance. Specifically, the play of Argos backup quarterback Chad Kelly, who took over from starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson in the fourth quarter after he suffered a dislocated thumb on his throwing hand.
Kelly set up Ouellette’s touchdown with a 20-yard scramble on a second-and-15 play from the Winnipeg 36-yard line. He eluded two Winnipeg defenders in the backfield before streaking downfield and getting the first down.
Ouellette scored three plays later. It was his second rushing touchdown of the game.
“They never gave up. For Chad (Kelly) to come in and do what he did, that was impressive,” said Collaros.
“They had a good game plan. They pressured a little bit more on second-down situations. They were able to get home a couple of times. They kind of did what we were anticipating they were going to do for most of the football game and they did a better job than us.”