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November 11, 2023

Bakes’ Game Takes | BC 13 WPG 24 (Western Final)

Winnipeg, MB-ย For a second straight year, the BC Lions’ November ride came to an end in the Manitoba capital as the squad fell 24-13 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before a soldout crowd at IG Field. The home side rallied behind an aggressive defence and on the strength of Brady Oliveira who nearly hit 100 yards rushing in the first half alone.

The Bombers will represent the West in the Grey Cup for a fourth consecutive season as they will take on the Montreal Alouettes one week from Sunday in Hamilton. Earlier on Saturday, the Alouettes pulled off a 38-17 Eastern Final upset in Toronto

Now for some game takes from Matt Baker.

First Half Roller Coaster…. Again

Much like last year’s Western Final, it was defined by a series of first-half momentum swings. With the Lions up 3-0 early, the Bombers pounded it with Oliveira on their opening series as the bruising back accounted for all 69 yards- 58 rushing and an 11-yard reception- to put the home side on top.

A blocked punt return touchdown in the second quarter then helped propel them to an 18-3 advantage before Vernon Adams Jr. heaved up a Hail Mary that was deflected into the arms of Justin McInnis with no time on the clock. At that point, you figured the football Gods just might have been on the Lions’ side.

A Sean Whyte field goal accounted for the only third-quarter points, and you can sense they were ready to cash in when it mattered most. The real backbreaker came when Adams Jr. threw an interception to Demario Houston in the Bombers’ territory with the score still 18-13. That was as close as they would come as Winnipeg’s defence stood its ground for the remainder of the night. They sacked Adams Jr. nine times and intercepted him on three occasions.

“We didn’t execute to our standard,” Adams Jr. said after the loss.

“We were up and down, we got some things going for a little bit and a sack or something, but we’ve just got to watch the film and see what happened and see if I could get to my checkdowns or anything like that. I said it earlier in the week, playing against a great team like that you just have to be able to execute and limit the mistakes.”

 

“We knew we had to play really well to beat these guys,” added head coach Rick Campbell.

“I think we would say as a group we would play better, a little cleaner game. They’re good. We knew what we were walking into. I appreciate that our guys keep fighting and keep battling. We just didn’t play well enough to win, and again I just give Winnipeg absolute credit because they played well, they played the game they needed to win. They kept on fighting all the way through and just didn’t get it done.:

It will be another year of wondering what might have been, especially for some of these veteran players who may not get many more kicks at the can. These Bombers will remain the measuring stick once again.

“We definitely this year, we felt we could keep up with them in all phases,” said Bo Lokombo.

“Last year, we lost by eight, this year was a close game, and they’re a tough team. It’s a tough team to beat, especially at home with the crowd and some of the execution. Like you mentioned how Brady was running today. We’ve got to get bigger, man. I don’t really want to talk about next year but I know I’m definitely looking forward to it. Yeah, man. This one hurts.”

Added Adams Jr.: “They’ve kind of been the top dogs of the West the last few years. That’s it. We’ve got to take that step in beating these guys when we play them, especially when it matters. It was great matches all year against these guys and I love competing against them. I felt we had a good plan going into the week, we prepared hard, and again, it’s about executing. It starts with me.”

The Lions also had to make due for most of the night without wide receiver Keon Hatcher or defensive back TJ Lee. Both left with non-contact injuries in the opening quarter with the fear that each guy suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. No doubt a reminder that how cruel the game can be.

Key Numbers

9–ย  number of sacks for the Bomber defence as it seemed like the Lions couldn’t take advantage of some good starting field position or big plays to set them up on Winnipeg’s side of the field. Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Malik Jackson each recorded two.

109– rushing yards for Oliveira with all but 11 of those coming in the first half. He scored the Bombers’ only offensive major of the night on their opening drive.

110– a game-high receiving yards for McInnis as once again it was a different Lion receiver leading the charge.

189– the Lions could only muster up that total in net offence.

37:44– the Bombers owned time of possession in this one.

Next Up

The Lions head into another off-season ahead of a 2024 campaign that should once again come with sky-high expectations. The 111th Grey Cup will be played at BC Place next November. The Blue Bombers and Alouettes meet in the Grey Cup for the first time ever next Sunday at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com