Brady Oliveira has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Montreal Alouettes this season.
The Winnipeg running back surpassed 100 yards rushing in both regular-season appearances versus Montreal. Oliveira will likely be a key figure again Sunday when the Bombers face the Alouettes in the Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field.
Winnipeg swept the season series 2-0 with Oliveira leading the way. He ran for a combined 239 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries (6.3-yard average) while registering three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.
The 5-foot-10, 222-pound Winnipeg native was a model of consistency against Montreal. He ran for 120 yards on 20 carries in a 17-3 Bombers road win July 1 before rushing for 119 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in leading the Bombers to a 47-17 home victory Aug. 24.
But this isn’t the same Montreal squad, especially on defence. The Alouettes have reeled off seven straight wins, the last two being playoff victories over Hamilton (27-12) and a heavily favoured Toronto side (38-17 in East Division final) that posted a CFL-best 16-2 regular-season mark.
Montreal’s defence didn’t allow a touchdown against Hamilton then forced nine turnovers (four interceptions, four on downs, fumble) versus Toronto, returning two of their picks for touchdowns.
Darnell Sankey has been a key playoff performer for Montreal (11-7, second in East Division). The six-foot-one, 245-pound middle linebacker had eight tackles, two sacks and an interception versus Hamilton before delivering six tackles, an interception and forced fumble in the stunning victory over Toronto.
But Sankey has also had plenty of help.
Defensive lineman Shawn Lemon – who had 26 tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 13 regular-season games – has three sacks, seven tackles and a fumble recovery in Montreal’s two playoff games. And against Toronto, defensive back Reggie Stubblefield had 11 tackles and an interception.
However Winnipeg (14-4, first in West Division) can do more than just run the ball. Much more.
Quarterback Zach Collaros was second in CFL passing (4,252 yards) but tops in TD strikes (33). The league’s outstanding player in 2021 and ‘22 also registered 10 300-yard passing games to stand first overall in that category.
On Sunday, Collaros will become the first CFL quarterback ever to start four consecutive Grey Cup games. He’ll also look to earn the Bombers a third victory after dropping last year’s championship game 24-23 to Toronto.
Winnipeg’s receiving corps is solid. Sophomore Dalton Schoen (71 catches, 1,222 yards, CFL-high 10 TDs) has missed the club’s last three games with an ankle injury but the Bombers still have Nic Demski (67 catches, 1,006 yards, six TDs) and Kenny Lawler (50 catches, 901 yards, six TDs).
Oliveira has also registered 38 catches for 482 yards and four TDs.
Winnipeg led the CFL in offensive points (31.7 per game), TDs (62), net offence (414.7 yards) and rushing (139.1 yards) and was second overall in passing (292.4 yards).
Montreal counters with a unit that was fifth overall in rushing (102.2 yards), sixth in net yards (329.7) and passing (250 yards), seventh in offensive points (20.6) and last in offensive TDs (31). The Alouettes also allowed 61 sacks, second-worst in the CFL, and seven against Toronto.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo had a CFL-best 71.6 completion percentage with 3,847 yards but had almost as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (14). The veteran can also run, having rushed 57 times for 341 yards (six-yard average) and three TDs.
Austin Mack was Montreal’s top receiver with 78 catches for 1,154 yards and four TDs.
But the Als’ offence will definitely be in tough against a stellar Winnipeg defence. The Bombers led the CFL in fewest offensive points allowed (18.2 per game), offensive TDs (27), lowest net offence (298.8 yards) and passing yards (229.4) while finishing third in sacks (53).
Linebacker Adam Bighill, three times the CFL’s top defensive player, suffered a right leg injury in Winnipeg’s 24-13 West Division final win over B.C. on Saturday. His status for Sunday remains uncertain.
Winnipeg did drop a 29-23 decision to Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field earlier this season. But the Bombers also downed the Ticats 33-35 in overtime to capture the ‘21 Grey Cup game there.
Montreal’s stout defence is a big reason why the Alouettes are in the Grey Cup. But the Bombers counter with plenty of championship experience and savvy in all three phases and the keen desire to atone for last year’s upset loss to Toronto.
Last week: 1-1