A snarling Winnipeg Blue Bomber defence turned the Hamilton Tiger-Cats into kittens.
The Bomber front four dominated Hamilton on route to a 33-12 victory in Sunday’s 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium. The win ended a 29-year Grey Cup drought for Winnipeg.
“They were relentless,” said Winnipeg defensive coordinator Richie Hall. “They were on a mission.”
Winnipeg held the league’s highest scoring offence to just 12 points and one touchdown. The Bombers forced seven turnovers and had six sacks for 57 yards. They held Hamilton to just 298 total yards.
Winnipeg middle linebacker Adam Bighill had a front row seat to the feeding frenzy going on in front of him.
“They were absolutely dominant,” said Bighill, who recovered a fumble that set up Winnipeg’s first touchdown.
“The speed they were playing at, the physicality they were playing at, the noises I heard as they were mauling people, it was absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
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Defensive end Willie Jefferson, voted the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive player, was a terror. He had three quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles.
The first fumble was recovered by Bighill and setup Andrew Harris’s 15-year run for the game’s first touchdown with just 3:41 gone in the opening quarter.
“We came out here and put it on the line,” said Jefferson, coloured confetti swirling around him as he held his one-year-old daughter in his arms. “We had nothing to play for no more. This was the last game of the season, win or go home.”
Jackson Jeffcoat, Jefferson’s bookend at the other end of the front line, had four tackles, two sacks and also forced a fumble.
“This team worked their assess off,” he said. “We worked hard. We believed the whole time.”
The Bombers began the carnage early, creating turnovers on Hamilton’s first three possession. There was an interception by safety Brandon Alexander, the forced fumble, and the Bombers stuffed the Tiger-Cats on a third-and-one gamble.
“That’s just how this defence is,” said Jeffcoat, who spoke with his father Jim, a two-time Super Bowl winning defensive end, standing by his side. “That’s how we like to play.
“This is the Grey Cup. It’s the championship game. We are going to play championship defence and championship ball.”
Jeffcoat also credited the Bombers’ secondary for tight coverage, which forced Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans to hold onto the ball or force throws.
“A lot of teams try to keep us out of the game by throwing the ball quick, getting the ball out fast,” he said. “Give us a little bit of time and we will get there.”
In the second half, Winnipeg linebacker Kyrie Wilson made a great play to breakup a two-point convert after Hamilton’s lone touchdown.
In the fourth quarter cornerback Mike Jones managed to knock the ball out of the hands of Hamilton receiver Mike Jones to thwart what would have given the Tiger-Cats a first down on the Bomber eight-yard line.
The Bombers finished third in the West with a 11-7 record. They went on the road and allowed just 14 points in beating the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Semi-Final and then gave up only 13 in their Western Final win over Saskatchewan.
Head Coach Mike O’Shea praised Hall and assistant defensive coaches Glen Young and Jordan Younger in their planning for the playoffs.
“This run through the playoffs, their planning was exceptional, and they were spot on with it and how we were going to win games,” said O’Shea.
“The defence today, boy did they shine.”
O’Shea spent 16 seasons in the CFL as a linebacker, winning three Grey Cups.
“I wouldn’t make this team,” he said.
Hamilton led the CFL with a 15-3 record and were favoured to win the Grey Cup.
Hearing how good the Tiger-Cats were all week was like waving red meat in the face of the Bomber defence.
“We have been underdogs for the last four weeks,” said Jefferson. “We didn’t want anybody to bet on us.
“We wanted them to bet against us. We wanted to show the CFL if you bet against us, this is what you’re going to get.”