Blue Bombers refuse to let Rourke roll in 24-9 victory over Lions

WINNIPEG — Zach Collaros wanted to look ahead rather than back at the accomplishments he and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers achieved in the CFL regular season.

Collaros threw two touchdown passes to help the Bombers post a franchise-best 15th victory with a 24-9 win over the B.C. Lions in the teams’ regular-season finale Friday.

Bomber teams recorded 14-win seasons in 2001, 1993 and 1960.

Collaros’s two TDs gave him a league-leading 37 for the season, which put him in second place in franchise history for most TD passes in a season. Khari Jones holds the record of 46 in 2002.

“We have a lot in front of us that we still need to accomplish,” Collaros said. “This is where the real fun start. It’s something that we’ll reflect on after the season.”

Winnipeg’s (15-3) next action is hosting the CFL West Final on Nov. 13. The Lions (12-6) are home to the Calgary Stampeders in the Nov. 6 West Division semifinal.

Collaros played the first quarter, completing four of five pass attempts for 68 yards with touchdowns to Dalton Schoen and Rasheed Bailey in front of 23,685 fans at IG Field.

All eyes were on B.C. quarterback Nathan Rourke, who was playing his first game since suffering a foot injury on Aug. 19 that required surgery. Rourke predicted his foot might be a bit sore Saturday, but he felt “fortunate” to be back on the field. He finished 7-of-11 passing for 68 yards.

“I feel like I’m seeing things well,” he said. “I thought that I didn’t have any mental errors.

“I think that all the misthrows were all physical things that we can clean up.”

He’s looking forward to more improvement before the clash with Calgary.

“You’ve just got to get more comfortable trusting that the foot is strong enough to be able to take the brunt of what I’m asking it to do,” Rourke said.

Rourke was under centre for the game’s opening series, which started well but finished badly.

He completed four of his first five pass attempts but fumbled the ball after being strip-sacked by Bombers defensive tackle Casey Sayles. Fellow tackle Jake Thomas picked up the loose ball for the turnover.

Collaros used the opportunity to throw a 22-yard TD pass to an open Schoen in the end zone at 6:33.

It was Schoen’s league-leading 16th touchdown of the season. The rookie finishes with 1,441 receiving yards, which currently tops the league.

Collaros’s second TD toss was a low ball caught by Bailey at the back of the end zone at 13:55 of the first quarter.

Rourke stayed in to finish a drive early in the second quarter, which ended with Sean Whyte’s 37-yard field goal.

“I thought it was good,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell said of Rourke’s play. “I think it’s another big step forward for him on this journey back to being ready for the playoffs.”

Vernon Adams Jr. went in for Rourke, then Anthony Pipkin had his turn early in the fourth quarter.

Dakota Prukop replaced Collaros, followed by Dru Brown in the fourth quarter.

Marc Liegghio chipped in a 13-yard field goal for a 17-3 lead at 12:59 of the second quarter.

Whyte ended the first-half scoring with a 19-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining.

Prukop guided Winnipeg’s offence to an 11-play, 103-yard drive, capped by a direct snap to fullback Mike Miller that he took one yard into the end zone at 9:33 of the third.

Liegghio was good on his third convert of the game to increase the score to 24-6.

Whyte booted a 44-yard field goal at 12:45 of the third to end the scoring.

Bombers running back Brady Oliveira had 72 yards off nine carries, giving him 1,001 yards for the season. It was the first time he went over the 1,000-yard mark in his three-year career. He also became just the fourth Canadian to rush for more than 1,000 yards since 2000.

"The way that I started this season, no one probably thought I'd be here,” Oliveira said. “I think it's just a testament to all the hard work I had put into this.”

The Winnipeg native was also proud of the new franchise record for wins.

“We got a lot of guys that just want to be great every single day and whatever their role is, they're going to give it their all, so I think it's great,” Oliveira said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press