It wasn’t as easy as last week, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers still managed to find a way to beat the Edmonton Elks, picking up a 26-16 win for their seventh straight victory and clinching a playoff spot in the process.
With a 9-1 record, the Bombers are running away from the rest in the West Division, now with an eight point lead on the second place Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Happy we got out of here with a win,” Zach Collaros said. “Really proud of the way that we finished there at the end.”
It was the Bombers third win over the Elks in their last four games to sweep the season series, but the blue and gold certainly weren’t as sharp as they have been in previous games.
“It doesn’t feel like we played as well as we should of, or could of,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “It just wasn’t looking the same as it normally does, right. We didn’t take the ball away at the level we usually do. It took them a little while to get going.
“But it wasn’t effort, they just missed some tackles and had some, once again, a couple odd things go against them defensively. I still thought they were pretty darn good.”
The outcome was still very much in doubt with the game tied at 16 in the fourth quarter when Elks defensive back Aaron Grymes dropped what should have been a sure interception.
“I thanked Grymes after the play,” said Collaros.
Just a few plays later Collaros connected with Rasheed Bailey in the end zone to put the Bombers up for good.
“You got to love Zach though,” O’Shea said. “Grymes drops that ball and he comes right back and hits Rasheed Bailey. Unfazed right, just stands in there and delivers a big one down field.”
Collaros completed 15 of his 24 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Despite a slow start, the Bombers defence once again pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter. It was the third straight game the Bombers didn’t surrender a point in the final quarter and they’ve still only given up six – fourth quarter points in their first 10 games.
“Those guys are hard working, lunch pail, hard hat type of guys,” said Bailey. “They get a chance to go up against one of the best offences in practice and it’s showing up in the games.”
The Bombers defence finished with four sacks, a forced fumble, and three pass knockdowns, but certainly weren’t as dominant as previous games.
“Edmonton came and gave us everything they had,” said Willie Jefferson. “They knew – back up against the wall at home. Just wanted to give us everything they had and they did that.
“We can’t just come into a game no matter who the opponent is and think it’s just going to be an easy walk in the park.”
The win may have come with a price though, as Bombers running back Andrew Harris left the game with what appeared to be a right knee injury late in the first half and he did not return.
“We’ll see what the injury report says,” said O’Shea.
The run game didn’t lose a beat though as Brady Oliveira came in and rushed for 105 yards on 16 carries.
Kenny Lawler returned to the lineup after being suspended by the team last week for an impaired-driving arrest and had a couple big catches, finishing with 82 yards on three receptions.
But it was Bailey who had the best night among Bombers receivers, making six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
After a 30-3 thumping by the Bombers over the Elks last week, the offences struggled for much of the first half Friday with just eight points scored in the game’s first 26 minutes.
With Edmonton up 5-3 late in the second quarter, the Bombers finally found the end zone when Collaros found Harris for a five-yard TD, but as Harris rolled across the line, he favoured his knee and stayed down for a few minutes before leaving the game.
The Bombers eventually took a 16-8 lead in the third quarter, but the Elks finally recorded a touchdown for the first time in two weeks against Winnipeg, when former Manitoba Bison Shai Ross caught an 11-yard pass from Taylor Cornelius.
But after Bailey’s fourth-quarter TD, the Bombers defence held strong with a third down stop with 90 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
It was a much-better performance from Bombers kicker Ali Mourtada after he was booed off the field for his 1-for-4 field goal performance a week ago.
Mourtada went 4-of-5, only missing a 44-yarder late in the game.
Bombers offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick missed the game with a hip injury, and the loss of his presence was certainly felt by the Bombers. Collaros was sacked four times after the team gave up just nine sacks in all of their first nine games of the season.
Defensive back Nick Taylor was also dealing with an injury and was a last-minute scratch. Demerio Houston started in his absence.
The Bombers are back at home Saturday, October 23 to take on the B.C. Lions.
Kickoff is shortly after 6 p.m.
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