Mike O’Shea was glad the Blue Bombers provided fans with an exciting see-saw battle against the Calgary Stampeders on Thursday, especially when it was Winnipeg who came away with a historic 31-29 victory.
The Bombers (10-1) became the first team in CFL history to record 400 home victories (Calgary sits at 399). They did it in front of 30,062 fans at IG Field, who were also treated to some highlights by the Stampeders.
“I would say it's probably not a classic in terms of when the coaches watch it, but for the CFL fans, I don't think they care about that,” the Bombers head coach said. “That was one hell of a game for the audience.”
Calgary (6-4) receiver Malik Henry caught a trio of touchdowns from second-year quarterback Jake Maier, who was starting for the first time in place of healthy veteran Bo Levi Mitchell.
Henry, who missed the previous two games with an injury, finished with seven catches for 122 yards.
Maier threw an incomplete pass on his first possession in the game, but then completed 15 straight passes. He was 15-of-16 for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and finished 23-of-28 for 294 yards with no interceptions.
Maier said the offence played well through three quarters but didn’t do enough in the fourth quarter when Winnipeg’s defence turned up its pushback.
“I feel like we didn’t finish well enough, and it starts with me,” he said. “The second or third last drive of the game, took a bad sack, missed a throw, had a couple balls batted down.
“I need to be better in those moments, and we will.”
Winnipeg won all three games versus Calgary this season, giving them a season-series sweep for the first time since 1987. The other victories were also close scores of 26-19 and 35-28.
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, who was intercepted twice in the end zone by Stampeders defensive back Brad Muhammad, was 19-of-26 passing for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
“Two great organizations. Two great teams,” Collaros said. “I thought we showed a lot of resiliency.
“I put us in a couple of bad spots and the entire team picked me up, picked the offence up.“
Winnipeg got touchdown catches from receivers Greg McCrae, Nic Demski and Rasheed Bailey. Backup quarterback Dakota Prukop recorded another TD with a two-yard sneak and threw the 10-yard TD strike to Bailey. Marc Liegghio booted a 32-yard field goal and was good on four converts.
Calgary kicker Rene Paredes connected on field goals from 47 and 31 yards and made three converts. The Stampeders also picked up two singles when Winnipeg conceded on punts.
The Bombers led 14-8 after the first quarter. Calgary had an 18-17 edge at halftime and 25-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson acknowledged Maier faced a lot of pressure.
“I thought we did a fairly good job staying balanced, working things back and forth,” Dickenson said. “Right (after halftime), we had two plays we could have made big plays on and we didn’t.”
He also agreed with O’Shea that the game was a treat for fans.
“Battle again, back-and-forth, good entertainment but not on our end,” Dickenson said. “We still come out with a loss and that hurts.”
Winnipeg had a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter, but also two injuries to defensive backs.
After Collaros threw a 41-yard TD pass to McCrae at 12:17 on Winnipeg’s opening possession, Calgary responded with Henry’s 61-yard TD catch at the 8:30 mark.
Henry’s run to the end zone was aided by an injury to Bombers cornerback Demerio Houston. As Houston was running to cover Henry, he pulled up and fell to the turf. He limped off the field and didn’t return.
Bombers backup cornerback Patrice Rene was then hurt during coverage of Calgary’s kickoff. He was taken off the field on a cart.
Starting running back Brady Oliveira was on the sidelines with his helmet off in the second half, but O’Shea didn’t have updates on the injured trio.
Oliveira was replaced by Johnny Augustine, who had four key carries for 20 yards on Winnipeg’s last drive of the game that ate up more than two minutes and sealed the victory.