December 28, 2023

Down to the Wire: A look at 3-minute warning chaos

Timothy Atticus/

You know how us CFL honks are always telling people not to turn a game off until it’s over? Well…we’re not just saying that. And the 2023 season was another perfect example.

More than 60 per cent of regular season games this year were decided inside the three-minute warning. That’s right, well over half of the 2023 schedule came down to the wire in some form or another. Oh, and so did the final game of the season as I’m sure we all remember.

Let’s count down some of this season’s most exciting games decided in the final three minutes.

 Then and Now: Best Sunday Night games of ’23 and ’24
 Rivalries Old and New: Labour Day Weekend games of ’23 and ’24
 Als, REDBLACKS set for Thanksgiving Weekend rematch in ’24

Week 11 | Montreal Alouettes 25 – Ottawa REDBLACKS 24


Well before the Alouettes were rattling off eight in a row en route to the 110th Grey Cup, they were setting a foundation in the middle stages of the season. After a pedestrian 2-3 start, Montreal was riding a three-game win streak as they rolled into TD Place in Ottawa on a Saturday night.

But, just minutes before kickoff, starting quarterback Cody Fajardo was ruled out with a shoulder injury, which forced understudy Caleb Evans into action. And Evans answered the bell. Trailing 24-13 approaching the three-minute warning, Evans engineered a pair of seven-play touchdown drives to flip the script. He hit Tyler Snead for a touchdown with 2:39 remaining and plunged in for a two-yard keeper with 31 seconds to go as the Als pulled off the shocker.

Week 19 | Calgary Stampeders 26 – Saskatchewan Roughriders 19


This game actually didn’t have any scoring in the final three minutes, but the playoff stakes easily allow it to qualify. After the Stamps went 89 yards on eight plays to score a go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes to go, their defence took over.

Calgary forced Jake Dolegala and the Riders to turn the ball over on downs on two separate occasions inside the three-minute warning and closed out a crucial victory. The win put the Stampeders in the driver’s seat to clinch a playoff spot and took destiny out of Saskatchewan’s hands. Calgary would cement their 15th straight postseason berth the following week.

Week 18 | Winnipeg Blue Bombers 34 – BC Lions 26 (OT)


The rubber match of this three-game series between two West Division powerhouses truly came right down to the wire. Winnipeg’s eventual overtime win put them in control of clinching first place and thus a bye into the West Division Final, which would also be a win over the Lions.

But this Week 18 showdown looked like it might be going the other way until the Bombers flipped the script with less than three minutes remaining. Down 26-16, Zach Collaros hit Drew Wolitarsky for a 13-yard touchdown with 2:20 to go to get back within three. Then, after forcing a turnover on downs, Sergio Castillo nailed a 28-yard field goal in the dying seconds to force overtime. Winnipeg scored on their only extra time possession, which was enough for the win.

Week 13 | Calgary Stampeders 35 – Edmonton Elks 31

Week 14 | Edmonton Elks 25 – Calgary Stampeders 23


The Labour Day Classic and annual rematch the following week gave us two Battle of Alberta last minute finishes. It started at McMahon Stadium when the Stampeders scored a pair of touchdowns inside three minutes, starting with a Tommy Stevens one-yard sneak with 2:51 remaining. Then, down three, Jake Maier led Calgary 86 yards downfield on a drive finished with a game winning Dedrick Mills four-yard touchdown run.

Five days later in the rematch at Commonwealth Stadium, the Elks punched back. Down one point and in the middle of a last gasp drive, Edmonton moved 26 yards on a Stampeders pass interference call. Then, after a 15-yard strike to Eugene Lewis put them in range, Dean Faithfull nailed a 42-yard field goal with time expiring to help the Elks exact a little revenge.

Week 13 | Saskatchewan Roughriders 32 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 30


Labour Day Weekend games decided late just hit a little different, don’t they? That was certainly the case when the Riders thrilled a sellout crowd of 33,350 at Mosaic Stadium and upset the archrival Bombers in overtime. But we wouldn’t have gotten overtime without a couple key kicks, including an Adam Korsak 65-yard punt single with less than three minutes to go.

That single got Saskatchewan back within three points and, after forcing an immediate two-and-out, Dolegala took over from his own 40. Dolegala threw seven passes and ran the ball once to move the Roughriders into position for a Brett Lauther 18-yard field goal to tie it. Saskatchewan would close out the comeback after a thrilling overtime session.

Week 6 | Ottawa REDBLACKS 31 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28 (OT)


Of all the many unexpected regular season results we saw in 2023, this is the one I saw coming least. After all, Winnipeg held a 25-9 lead as the three-minute warning was whistled in. But Dustin Crum and the REDBLACKS had different ideas. Ottawa’s comeback started when Brandin Dandridge picked off Collaros for a 25-yard defensive touchdown and it kept rolling from there.

A Nate Behar two-point conversion knocked the deficit down to eight, and thus one possession. That possession started with 57 seconds to go and saw the REDBLACKS march 94 yards in 48 seconds culminating in a 12-yard Crum touchdown run. After Behar reeled in his second two-point convert to tie it, Crum finished the game in overtime with a 29-yard touchdown dash.

110th Grey Cup | Montreal Alouettes 28 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 24


Oh ho hum, just another Grey Cup decided in the final three minutes, hey?

By now we all know how Montreal’s final possession played out. Taking over with less than two minutes remaining, Fajardo threw the two most memorable passes of his career. It started with a 31-yard stunner to Cole Spieker on third-and five and finished with a 19-yard game winner to Tyson Philpot in the end zone.

In a year where you really couldn’t turn a CFL game off early, it was rather fitting to see the 110th Grey Cup finish in that exact fashion.

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