By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Willie Jefferson knew the Blue Bombers’ defence was dialed in this week to try to propel the team to a franchise-record fourth straight Grey Cup appearance.
It was mission accomplished in a 24-13 victory over the B.C. Lions in Saturday’s CFL West Division final, where all three phases produced Winnipeg highlights.
The defence sacked Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. nine times, Blue Bombers running back Brady Oliveira rushed for 109 yards and one touchdown and defensive back Nick Hallett blocked a punt and scored.
“We’re a bend-don’t-break defence, but tonight, man, we were really just don’t break,” said Jefferson, who had a pair of sacks along with fellow rush end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Malik Clements.
“We were out there trying to be aggressive, we were out there being physical and we really wanted to go out there and show the league we can play four quarters of football and shut boys out.”
Winnipeg will face Montreal in the 110th Grey Cup on Nov. 19 in Hamilton after the Alouettes upset the Toronto Argonauts 38-17 in the East final.
“It wasn’t really a surprise to me,” Oliveira said of Montreal’s victory. “I kind of had my picks how I thought the whole playoff scenario was going to go and I had Montreal winning it and going to the Grey Cup.
“(Montreal’s) a great group. Their defence has been playing lights out. That’s who’s gotten them this far and gotten them to the Grey Cup, so it’s going to a great, great, great test for us.”
The Bombers will try to win a third championship in four appearances after losing last year’s title game 24-23 to the Argonauts. Winnipeg won the Cup in 2021 and 2019. The league didn’t play in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros completed 14 of 21 pass attempts for 158 yards with no interceptions in front of a fifth straight sellout of 32,343 fans at IG Field. He was sacked twice.
Adams was 13-of-25 passing for 221 yards with one TD and three interceptions. Known for his scrambling abilities, he only ran twice for seven yards.
The Lions quarterback limped into the press room after the game.
“They got some hits early and banged up my knee, things like that,” Adams said. “We didn’t execute to our standard. We were up and down.”
Winnipeg’s game-time decision for injured receivers Nic Demski and Rasheed Bailey and running back/receiver Greg McCrae was all three good to go.
However, a big injury hit the Bombers late in the second quarter.
Star middle linebacker Adam Bighill left the field with 1:37 left after appearing to injure his right leg. He didn’t place much weight on his foot when he went to the sideline and rode a cart to the dressing room. He didn’t return.
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea’s update on Bighill was “don’t count him out” of the championship game.
The Lions also had two players sidelined in the first half, leading receiver Keon Hatcher and defensive back T.J. Lee.
B.C. head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell said his team had a chance with the score 18-13 heading into the fourth.
“It was there for the taking and they made plays that needed to be made and we didn’t,” he said. “It wasn’t for lack of effort or want to, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Sergio Castillo connected on field goals from 29, 11 and 35 yards for Winnipeg, but missed attempts from 46 and 34 yards. He picked up one single and made two converts.
Lions receiver Justin McInnis caught a 45-yard touchdown pass. Sean Whyte booted field goals from 48 and 43 yards and was good on one convert.
Winnipeg led 7-3 after the first quarter, 18-10 at halftime and 18-13 after the third.
Whyte booted his 48-yarder on the game’s opening drive.
Oliveira was the workhouse in Winnipeg’s first drive, carrying the ball eight times for 59 yards and grabbing an 11-yard catch. His eight-yard touchdown run at 10:31 capped off the series. The only other play in the series was an incomplete pass to Bailey.
After the first quarter, Oliveira had 10 carries for 80 yards and the one TD, plus the 11-yard reception.
Hallett’s touchdown after blocking punter Stefan Flintoft at 5:21 of the second quarter boosted Winnipeg’s lead to 15-3.
Bombers linebacker Kyrie Wilson intercepted Adams, with the turnover leading to Castillo’s 29-yarder at 9:36 of the second.
Adams threw up a Hail Mary with one second left in the half. McInnis came down with the ball in a crowded end zone as time expired for a 45-yard TD reception. A Whyte convert squeezed the score 18-10.
Castillo’s 34-yard attempt hit an upright in the third quarter and the Lions responded with Whyte’s 43-yarder.
Winnipeg cornerback Demerio Houston picked up his eighth interception of the season 1:16 into the fourth, leading to Castillo’s 11-yarder.
Castillo made it 24-13 from 35 yards out with 3:10 remaining and defensive back Evan Holm intercepted Adams with 20 seconds left.
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: Home teams have now won eight of the last nine West finals and are 15-6 since 2002.
FINAL PUSH: Winnipeg’s season record when leading after three quarters was boosted to 13-1.