Au Septième Ciel: Alouettes win the 110th Grey Cup
HAMILTON — From uncertainty about the franchise’s existence earlier this year to a red-and-blue confetti celebration in Hamilton on Sunday, the Montreal Alouettes have charted one of the most unique paths to a Grey Cup championship in CFL history.
The Alouettes stunned the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 110th Grey Cup, winning 28-24 in a defensive battle that gave way to some late-stage offensive dramatics from quarterback Cody Fajardo. The win marks the Alouettes’ first Grey Cup win since 2010 and comes in a season where the franchise underwent an ownership change in the off-season.
Fajardo made 21-26 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns, including a gutsy desperation drive that gave the team a late fourth-quarter lead on a touchdown pass to Tyson Philpot. Austin Mack made six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown for the Als, while cornerback Kabion Ento had an interception, a forced fumble and two knockdowns to lead the Alouettes’ ferocious defence.
Zach Collaros made 18-23 passes for 223 yards in a losing effort, while running back Brady Oliveira rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown. The loss marks the Blue Bombers’ second consecutive Grey Cup disappointment, after the team had captured the league title in 2019 and 2021.
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110th GREY CUP
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Similar to their start in the Western Final last week, the Bombers looked to Oliveira early and often in their first offensive drive of the game. Oliveira touched the ball four times in Bombers’ nine-play drive, but they were unable to get to the end zone. Sergio Castillo‘s 25-yard field goal opened the scoring at 6:28, with the Bombers taking a 3-0 lead.
After a two-and-out from the Als’ offence that saw Evan Holm almost snag an interception on Fajardo, Collaros and the Bombers went back to work. Collaros engineered an eight-play, 66-yard drive that Oliveira finished off from five yards out for his first touchdown of the game. Castillo’s convert made it a quick-feeling 10-0 Bombers lead at 12:16.
After a lifeless offensive showing to start, the Als found their game to close out the first quarter. First, Fajardo fit a 31-yard bullet of a pass into a tight window for Mack to get to the Bombers’ 32-yard line. Running back William Stanback then showed some burst to break free on the handoff and powered his way to the end zone at 14:55. David Cote’s convert went through with the clock at zeroes. On the heels of a 77-yard, four-play drive, the Als had pushed their way into the game, trailing 10-7 at the start of the second quarter.
The Als began to seize momentum in the second quarter, as they increased the pressure on Collaros. The defence got its first turnover of the night when defensive back Kabion Ento stripped Oliveira on a run, with Ciante Evans recovering the ball. While the Als weren’t able to manufacture points on the drive, the game seemed to swing in their direction as they looked to cut into the Bombers’ lead.
The Bombers’ special teams unit did its part to take the momentum back. Brandon Alexander forced a fumble on returner James Letcher Jr. deep in Montreal territory, with Mike Benson recovering the ball at the 29-yard line. Five plays later, Dakota Prukop was plunging into the end zone from a yard out to give his team some breathing room. Castillo’s convert went through at 12:08 to give the Bombers a 10-point lead at 17-7.
The Als responded with a drive that saw them get all the way to the Bombers’ one-yard line. After receiver Tyler Snead had the end zone in sights but fell before he could get there, Als’ head coach Jason Maas opted to end the drive by going for it on third-down. The Bombers’ defence came up big and got the turnover at the one-yard line, preserving the 10-point lead to go into the half.
The Als opened the second half by making up for their missed touchdown opportunity. Fajardo needed just three plays to cover 60 yards for the score, which was aided by a spectacular one-handed catch by Mack that got the Als to the Bombers’ 23-yard line. Fajardo found Cole Spieker for the remaining 23 yards on the next play, shocking the crowd at Tim Hortons Field. Cote’s convert had the Als trailing 17-14, just two minutes into play.
With the Bombers looking to strike back, Ento made another big play. The first-year cornerback got between Collaros’ end-zone-bound ball and receiver Kenny Lawler, pulling in an incredible interception to give the Als the ball back. For the second time in the game, though, the Als were unable to capitalize on the turnover, forcing Joseph Zima to punt the ball away.
The Bombers took a turn at creating a turnover — Evan Holm picked off Fajardo — and not turning it into points, before the Als took their first lead of the night. After a 30-yard Philpot punt return, Fajardo led an impressive three-play, 26 yard drive that he capped with a 13-yard toss to Mack, giving the team its third offensive touchdown of the game. Cote’s convert sailed through at 4:02, putting the Als in front 21-17.
With their Grey Cup hopes threatened, the Bombers put together a perfect response. Collaros led a nine-play, 54-yard drive that Prukop finished off from the four-yard line at 9:29. Castillo’s convert gave the Bombers at 24-21 lead at 9:45.
The Als got the ball back at their own 21-yard line with under two minutes to play. Evans kept the drive alive at midfield on second-and-two, but Fajardo was sacked by linebacker Shayne Gauthier. The Als put their season on the line in a third-and-five and Fajardo came through with a huge 31-yard toss to Spieker, moving the ball to Winnipeg’s 21-yard line. Fajardo wasn’t done slinging. His next play was a 19-yard dart to Philpot for the go-ahead touchdown, with 13 seconds to play. Cote’s convert made it a 28-24 game.
The Bombers attempted a late punt to get to the end zone, but the Als recovered and pandemonium broke out on the field, as the Als captured their first Grey Cup in 13 years, capping what started as a tumultuous season with a sublime, perfect ending. The Als won their final eight games of the 2023 season.