Cody Fajardo and the Montreal Alouettes are unlikely Grey Cup champions.
Fajardo’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Canadian Tyson Philpot rallied Montreal to a thrilling 28-24 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday.
It earned the Alouettes their first CFL title since 2010 and came after an uncertain off-season that saw the franchise taken over by the league in February before it was sold the following month to businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau.
Fajardo’s toss capped a stellar seven-play, 83-yard march. It included a clutch 31-yard completion to Cole Spieker on third-and-five before a Tim Hortons Field sellout of 28,808 as Montreal ended 2023 with eight straight victories.
MACK & SANKEY LETS GOOOOO pic.twitter.com/dIraVDuYy7— Alouettes de Montréal (@MTLAlouettes) November 20, 2023
Winnipeg had one last possession to try to tie the game. Zach Collaros completed a pass to punter Jamieson Sheahan, who then tried to boot the ball into the endzone but it was short and Montreal recovered to end the game.
The Blue Bombers, in the Grey Cup for a fourth straight year, suffered a second consecutive loss after beating Hamilton in 2019 and ‘21. The Toronto Argonauts edged Winnipeg 24-23 last year.
Fajardo finished 21-of-26 passing for 290 yards with three TDs and an interception to secure his first Grey Cup title as a starter. He earned a ring with Toronto in 2017 as a backup.
The loss tarnished a stellar effort by Winnipeg running back Brady Oliveira. The CFL’s outstanding Canadian ran for 119 yards and a TD, his third 100-yard rushing performance in as many games this year versus Montreal.
The Winnipeg native ran for 120 and 118 yards as the Bombers swept the regular-season series with the Alouettes 2-0.
Dakota Prukop’s four-yard run at 9:32 of the fourth put Winnipeg ahead 24-21. It came after Fajardo staked Montreal to a 21-17 lead — its first of the game — with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Austin Mack at 3:48.
The 28-yard scoring drive was set up by Philpot’s 30-yard punt return. Montreal receiver Austin Mack had six receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Collaros, the first CFL quarterback to start four straight Grey Cups, finished 18-of-22 passing for 226 yards with an interception.
Linebacker Adam Bighill (right calf) and receiver Dalton Schoen (ankle) both played for Winnipeg despite neither practising this week. Bighill and Schoen also weren’t on the field during pre-game warmups but the Bombers announced 30 minutes before kickoff they’d be active.
Bighill, Winnipeg’s defensive leader, was injured in last week’s West Division final while Schoen, the club’s top receiver, hadn’t played since Oct. 6. Both saw action but each was substituted throughout the contest.
Montreal, which entered the game an eight-point underdog, earned its eighth Grey Cup in 19 appearances.
Winnipeg’s Sergio Castillo booted three converts and a field goal.
William Stanback and Spieker scored Montreal’s other touchdowns. David Cote added four converts.
Fajardo’s 23-yard TD strike to Spieker — with Bighill trying to defend — pulled Montreal to within 17-14 at 1:43 of the third. It capped a three-play, 60-yard march.
Winnipeg threatened, driving to Montreal’s nine-yard line before Kabion Ento intercepted Collaros in the endzone.
A stout defensive stand earned Winnipeg its 17-7 half-time advantage. Middle linebacker Shayne Gauthier — playing where Bighill would normally be — stopped Montreal quarterback Caleb Evans on third-and-one with eight seconds to play to preserve the Bombers’ lead.
It was an opening half neither team really took control of. Winnipeg had more first downs (13-9), net yards (187-163) rushing yards (86-49), offensive plays (30-22) and converted eight-of-12 on second down but needed a key turnover for its 10-point lead.
Collaros was eight-of-11 passing for 112 yards but Oliveira was Winnipeg’s top offensive threat with 69 yards and a TD on nine carries. However, the CFL’s top Canadian also lost a fumble.
Fajardo was a solid 10-of-12 passing for 123 yards with Stanback rushing five times for 40 yards and a TD.
Prukop’s one-yard run at 12:08 of the second staked Winnipeg to a 17-7 advantage. It was set up by Mike Miller’s recovery of James Letcher Jr.’s punt-return fumble at the Montreal 29-yard line.
Stanback’s 32-yard TD run at 14:55 of the first cut Winnipeg’s lead to 10-7. The four-play, 77-yard march was an impressive answer to Oliveira’s five-yard TD run at 12 minutes that capped the Bombers’ eight-play, 66-yard possession that was aided by a questionable unnecessary roughness call on Montreal’s Mustafa Johnson.
Castillo’ opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal at 6:28 as Winnipeg had possession for 11 minutes, five seconds in the quarter.
The Canadian Press