CALGARY — The CFL’s longest championship drought is over, as Winnipeg native Andrew Harris scored twice and Justin Medlock kicked six field goals to lead the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 33-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
Four-time Grammy Award winner Keith Urban rocked a McMahon Stadium gathering of 35,439 at halftime on Sunday night, while Harris set a Bombers Grey Cup record with 134 rushing yards to lead Winnipeg to its first Grey Cup since 1990. Harris became the first Blue Bomber to rush for more than 100 yards in a Grey Cup in 61 years, and only the second in franchise history.
Defensive end Willie Jefferson had three of the Bombers’ six sacks on Ticats quarterback Dane Evans, forcing two fumbles as part of a seven turnover night for the Winnipeg defence. Hamilton, meanwhile, lost Most Outstanding Player Brandon Banks to an apparent leg injury in the third quarter.
Harris opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run off an Adam Bighill fumble recovery, and later hauled in an 18-yard pass from Chris Streveler to give Winnipeg a 17-6 lead in the second quarter that would not be relinquished. The Bombers’ running back was named Grey Cup Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian, becoming the first in CFL history to win both honours.
Bombers starting quarterback Zach Collaros had a clean game, finishing 17-of-23 for 170 yards, while Streveler completed all three of his passing attempts for 39 yards and a touchdown. Kenny Lawler led the Bombers with 52 yards on three catches.
Tyrell Sutton rushed for 86 yards on 11 carries for the Ticats, who also had a strong effort from Jaelon Acklin with his game-high 88 yards on five catches. In the first Grey Cup start of his career, Evans threw for 203 yards on 16-of-27 passing for the Ticats with one touchdown and two interceptions. Bralon Addison scored the Ticats’ lone touchdown.
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Turnovers plagued Hamilton in the first half, with the first one coming on the opening drive when Acklin couldn’t handle a hard throw from Evans. The deflection wound up in the hands of safety Brandon Alexander, though the Bombers couldn’t capitalize, eventually sending Medlock out to punt.
The Ticats’ next offensive possession was when the floodgates would open. After a first-down sack was negated by Jefferson’s roughing the passer penalty, Jefferson would atone one play later, sacking Evans and forcing a fumble that would be recovered by Bighill at the Hamilton 15.
In the second Grey Cup of his career, Harris took his first carry of the game and found a sizeable crease in the defence, knocking over defensive back Cariel Brooks on his way to the game’s opening touchdown.
Trailing 7-0 with two turnovers in as many drives, the Ticats’ offence needed an answer. So they turned to their most explosive weapon in Banks, who caught two passes for 41 yards to eventually set up a 44-yard field goal from Lirim Hajrullahu to put Hamilton on the board.
The Bombers appeared to have an answer when Lawler beat Ticats defender Richard Leonard for a 30-yard gain into Hamilton territory. However, Medlock’s 48-yard field goal attempt was off the mark, ending a streak of 20 consecutive successful tries. A single point extended the Bombers’ lead to 8-3.
Already off to a slow start, bad turned to worse for the Ticats when a third down gamble went awry. Short yardage quarterback David Watford was swallowed by a sea of Bombers — led by Jonathan Kongbo — before being ruled short of the first down following a measurement.
Despite three turnovers in the first 15 minutes, the Ticats managed to fight tooth and nail, with Hajrullahu and Medlock exchanging field goals for an 11-6 Winnipeg lead.
That was when Harris began to take over the game for the Bombers’ offence, starting with a 21-yard run. On the next play, with Streveler in for Collaros, the Bombers’ backup picked Harris out of a crowd in the Ticats’ end zone, resulting in an 18-yard touchdown reception and Harris’ second major of the game.
Medlock’s second and third field goals of the game extended the Bombers’ lead to 24-6 early in the third quarter.
The Ticats’ troubles continued into the third quarter, when Banks suffered an apparent leg injury after being tackled by Bombers defensive back Mike Jones. To make matters worse, a promising drive crashed to a sudden halt when Watford was stuffed on third and a yard, marking the second turnover on downs for the Ticat offence.
The next time out, the Ticats would open up the bag of tricks. Lined up to attempt a 43-yard field goal, the ‘Cats scrambled the formation and snapped the ball to Hajrullahu, who faked an onside punt before a short shovel pass to Luke Tasker, who picked up 12 yards and a first down.
A 19-yard completion to Acklin set up a four-yard touchdown pass from Evans to Addison on a short pass in the flat, and while the two point convert failed, the Ticats had new life, cutting their deficit to 24-12 with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
The Bombers ended the quarter with a 41-yard field goal, as Medlock improved to 4-for-5 on the night to give Winnipeg a 15-point lead entering the final 15 minutes.
The Ticats’ best chance to get back in the game may have slipped through the hands of receiver Mike Jones, who couldn’t handle a 47-yard pass from Evans that would have set Hamilton up inside the five. They had to punt instead, putting the game in the hands of their defence with 12:36 remaining and trailing by 15 points.
Collaros connected with Nic Demski for a 31-yard completion on the very next drive, while some hard running from Harris and Streveler kept the drive — and, more importantly, the clock — moving. The Bombers continued to pound the rock, as a 26-yard run eventually set up Medlock’s fifth field goal of the game, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive consuming 6:24.
Medlock’s 18-yard field goal with 2:41 remaining was his sixth of the game, tying the all-time Grey Cup record and extending the Bombers’ lead to 33-12. Mike Jones would add a late interception for the Bombers, who ran into victory formation with 10 seconds remaining.
For the Ticats, the loss marks a bitter end to an otherwise memorable season, which saw a franchise record 15 wins and a perfect 9-0 regular season at Tim Hortons Field. While the Bombers’ 28-year drought comes to an end, the Ticats now own the CFL’s longest active streak without a championship, dating back to 1999.
Harris, meanwhile, won his second Most Valuable Canadian honour after claiming the award in the 99th Grey Cup as a member of the BC Lions.
Sunday’s victory caps off a stunning run for the Bombers, including back to back road wins over Calgary and Saskatchewan to reach the Grey Cup. After acquiring Collaros on trade deadline day, the Bombers won all four games that he started at quarterback.
In two playoff games and the Grey Cups, the Bombers didn’t commit a single turnover.