Andrew Harris ran for 136 yards and one touchdown as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers overcame six turnovers in a 21-17 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division final on Sunday in Winnipeg.
The result set up a Grey Cup rematch next weekend in Hamilton. The defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers will face the Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field after Hamilton beat Toronto 27-19 in the East final.
Harris, playing his first game since Oct. 15 because of an injured knee, had 23 carries and a three-yard TD run in front of 31,160 fans at IG Field, who braved on-and-off snow, gusty winds and a wind chill that made it feel like minus-20 C.
The Bombers finished first in the West Division this season and earned a bye into the final after putting up an 11-3 record in a shortened 14-game campaign. Saskatchewan went 9-5 and beat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 in overtime in the semifinal.
Winnipeg also got touchdowns Sunday from receiver Rasheed Bailey and backup quarterback Sean McGuire on a sneak. Kicker Sergio Castillo made all three converts.
William Powell had a one-yard touchdown run for Saskatchewan and Duke Williams pulled in a pass for a 67-yard catch-and-run TD. Brett Lauther was good on two converts, booted a 16-yard field goal and missed an attempt from 36 yards out.
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, the West Division nominee for most outstanding player, completed 17 of 21 pass attempts for 229 yards with one TD and three interceptions.
Cody Fajardo was 19-of-27 passing for 265 yards and one TD for the visitors.
Blue Bombers’ turnover woes
The score was tied 7-7 after the first quarter, Saskatchewan led 10-7 at halftime and the Riders held a 17-14 edge after the third.
Five of Winnipeg’s six drives in the first half ended with turnovers, including three interceptions and a pair of fumbles. A sixth was added in the third quarter.
On the game’s first possession, Collaro threw to a wide-open Nic Demski at the back of the end zone but the ball bounced off his hands and into the grasp of Riders defensive back Ed Gainey. The turnover didn’t lead to any points.
On Winnipeg’s next drive, Collaros completed a pass to Drew Wolitarsky near Saskatchewan’s goal line, but Riders defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy knocked the ball out of his hands and teammate Elie Bouka scooped it up and ran 94 yards.
The Bombers responded with a six-play, 71-yard drive capped by Bailey’s TD catch at 11:21.
The second quarter opened with Riders defensive back Nick Marshall intercepting Collaros, a turnover that led to an eight-play, 65-yard drive and Lauther’s 16-yard field goal at 5:02.
With five minutes left in the second quarter, Collaros was being pressured and threw the ball into the hands of Riders linebacker Nigel Harris at Saskatchewan’s 29-yard line. The visitors couldn’t add to their lead.
Saskatchewan would force a fifth turnover after Collaros connected with Bailey, who had the ball punched away at the Riders’ 31-yard line by Bouka. Linebacker Deon Lacey picked up the fumble, but Saskatchewan again couldn’t capitalize on the gift.
The Riders opened the second half with their first turnover, but Winnipeg soon added a sixth turnover.
Blue Bombers rally
After Fajardo overthrew a wide-open Duke Williams, Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat forced the quarterback to fumble on the next possession and Jake Thomas recovered.
Winnipeg took over at its own 37-yard line, but on third and three Bombers punter Marc Liegghio appeared to fake a punt – or not get one off – and he ran and was stopped short of the first down, tallying a turnover on downs.
The Bombers used his effort to march down the field for Harris’s three-yard TD run at 13:39 for their first lead of the game, 14-10.
The lead then changed hands twice. Williams had his TD, but the Bombers replied with McGuire’s one-yard quarterback sneak for a 21-17 Winnipeg lead at 6:34 of the fourth.
Williams was injured during a 31-yard catch with 2:14 remaining. The play was reviewed and the reception upheld.
The Riders continued the drive from Winnipeg’s 53, but turned the ball over on downs.