HAMILTON — With the Grey Cup game on the line, Zach Collaros showed why he was the CFL's outstanding player this season.
Collaros' 13-yard TD strike to Darvin Adams in overtime earned the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a thrilling 33-25 Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on a windy Sunday night. After hitting Adams to cap the opening possession of the extra session, Collaros, who was named the game MVP, found Rasheed Bailey for the two-point convert.
Kyrie Wilson cemented Winnipeg's second straight Grey Cup victory by intercepting Hamilton's Jeremiah Masoli, whose pass deflected off two Bombers defenders before it landed to Wilson. His pick capped a remarkable comeback by the Bombers, who trailed 22-10 at one point in the fourth quarter.
"It's a resilient bunch," Collaros said. "I say it all the time like a broken record but it's the culture (head coach) Mike O'Shea has set and it's the people they've brought in.
"We never wavered. I threw two interceptions to put us in a bad spot and guys picked me up."
Collaros finished 21-of-32 passing for 240 yards with two TDs and the two interceptions. Receiver Nic Demski, a Winnipeg native, captured top Canadian honours with four catches for 27 yards and a touchdown.
"I was sitting there in the locker room before the game just thinking to myself, 'Man, I really love these guys and we have to win,'" Collaros said. "I was kind of emotional about it."
But the CFL's top-scoring offence had to settle for five field goals from Sergio Castillo, who also had two crucial singles.
"The kicking game came up big," Demski said. "For Sergio to come up clutch like he did, that means the most."
O'Shea said never once did the Bombers doubt they could overcome the elements, a partisan Tim Hortons Field gathering and a stubborn Ticats squad for the victory.
"I don't think there was one doubter on the bench because if there was we wouldn't win," O'Shea, who was named the CFL's coach of the year after Winnipeg posted a league-best 11-3 record. "Looking back it was a hell of a game.
"He (Collaros) isn't fazed by that (interceptions), that's what makes him an MOP. He understands where we're at and doesn't let the emotion of one play affect the next series or next play. To me that's a mark of a champion for sure."
Hamilton forced overtime with Michael Domagala's 13-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. It came after Winnipeg's Deatrick Nichols batted down Masoli's second-down pass to Jaelon Acklin.
Winnipeg's defence was the CFL's best this season so defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat said it was only fitting the unit cemented the club's second straight championship.
"The defence has been bringing it all year ," he said. "We wanted a little bit of the spotlight so we had to get down and dirty.
"This is special. I want to sit out here and embrace this."
Winnipeg trailed 19-10 heading into the fourth but had a brisk wind — which gusted to nearly 50 kilometres throughout the night. After Castillo's 20-yard field goal, Collaros threw a 29-yard TD strike to Demski before Castillo's 95-yard kickoff single pulled the Bombers to within 22-21 with 5:33 remaining.
"The wind was tough," said Winnipeg receiver Rasheed Bailey. "It was tough, in the third quarter we couldn't get anything going because of the wind.
"But coach O'Shea said at halftime, 'We're going to take the wind in the fourth quarter,' and we got the job done."
The thrilling championship capped a season that saw the CFL return to play. Teams played a condensed 14-game campaign after the league opted against staging a 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"All of us had to find something else we were passionate about," said Bailey. "We were away from the game, we had to work out extra hard not knowing what the results were going to be.
"This was a COVID Grey Cup, that's what I'm calling it. Back-to-back COVID champs."
Masoli came into the contest in the second quarter with Hamilton trailing 7-0. He replaced starter Dane Evans, who suffered an apparent neck injury after falling under two Bombers on a one-yard run.
Masoli finished 20-of-25 passing for 185 yards with two TDs and an interception.
"I think Jeremiah did an unbelievable job with the situation he was put in and coming in there and getting his team in position to win," Collaros said.
Last week in the East final, Evans replaced Masoli and ran for two TDs while finishing 16-of-16 passing in Hamilton's 27-19 road win over Toronto.
The temperature at kickoff was 5 C but a 24-kilometre southwest wind – which gusted to 50 km/h – made it feel like 2 C to start.
And it was evident early the wind would be a factor. Castillo opened the game with a 72-yard, wind-aided kickoff before Hamilton punter Joel Whitford's first boot went 34 yards into the wind.
But the conditions didn't bother the record Tim Hortons Field gathering of 26,324, the overwhelming majority clad in black and gold to support a Ticats squad playing its first home Grey Cup game since 1972.
Hamilton's last Grey Cup win came in 1999.
"I told (Ticats players) the only way these things heal is with time," head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. "There's no words you can give except that I was extremely proud of them.
"I told them all, individually, that I loved them and that's from the heart... I'm extremely proud of just their grit, the people they became. We were in a position to win, that's what I know, and we didn't make a play."
Winnipeg becomes the first CFL team to win consecutive Grey Cups since the Montreal Alouettes (2009-10). The Bombers also recorded consecutive Grey Cup victories for the third time but first time since 1961-62.
"That's amazing. I can't wait to get back," Demski said. "I'm going to have fun (Sunday night), don't get me wrong.
"But I'm going to have a lot of fun in Winnipeg when I get home."
Steven Dunbar and Brandon Banks scored touchdowns for Hamilton. Domagala had three field goals and two converts with the other points coming on a safety.
Domagala's 10-yard field goal at 3:18 of the fourth put Hamilton ahead 22-10.
Castillo made it 10-10 with a 15-yard field goal with the wind at 6:26 of the third. And after Winston Rose stopped Masoli on a third-down gamble, Cameron Kelly's 43-yard interception return gave Hamilton possession at Winnipeg's 27-yard line.
Masoli took advantage with an 11-yard TD pass to Banks at 10:40 to put Hamilton ahead 17-10. A conceded safety at 14:28 stretched the Ticats' advantage to 19-10.
Masoli's 12-yard TD strike to Dunbar with 15 seconds remaining in the second staked Hamilton to its 10-7 halftime lead. After replacing Evans, he helped engineer a 12-play, 73-yard march that Domagala capped with a 13-yard field goal at 12:34.
Then following a Marc Liegghio 31-yard punt, Masoli hit Don Jackson on a 36-yard completion before finding Dunbar as Hamilton did the most with the wind to take the halftime advantage.
Castillo's 34-yard field goal at 1:54 gave Winnipeg a 7-0 lead.
Winnipeg took a 4-0 lead in the first with the wind. Castillo's 38-yard field goal at 6:44 came following Alden Darby's interception. It came a play after Hamilton had recovered Janarion Grant's punt-return fumble.
Then Liegghio had a 70-yard single at 12:29 in the lowest-scoring opening quarter since the '08 Grey Cup. Hamilton also managed just seven net offensive yards.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press