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WINNIPEG — One moment Dru Brown was feeling concerned, the next he was excited for the opportunity to lead the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to victory on Friday.
The backup quarterback replaced injured starter Zach Collaros and moved the Blue Bombers down the field to set up Marc Liegghio’s 25-yard field goal with six seconds left for a 19-17 season-opening victory over the Ottawa Redblacks.
"Any time you get a win like that, it's exciting,” Brown said. “But I'm just happy the guys trust me in that situation.”
Collaros was hit while running for a first down and got up slowly. He was removed from the game by an injury spotter with under two minutes remaining.
“I just saw him (Collaros) on the ground, and instantly you feel terrible in a situation like that,” said Brown, who's in his second season with the team.
“But I just tried to get past that and let loose because the team needs me. And that's why I'm in that spot.”
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said the injury spotter in the Toronto command centre pulled Collaros for three plays. After that, it didn’t make sense to put him back in.
“By then I think we were in field-goal range,” O’Shea said. “I think we were at the point where we were working the clock more than anything.”
Collaros, who completed 18 of 26 pass attempts for 188 yards and one touchdown, has had concussions in the past.
The victory gave the Blue Bombers 10 straight wins at IG Field.
RCMP officers had carried the Grey Cup onto the field prior to kickoff, setting up the unveiling of the Bombers’ 2021 Grey Cup banner to loud cheers from the announced crowd of 26,002.
Jeremiah Masoli made his Redblacks debut after signing with Ottawa (0-1) in February following his release by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He was 24 for 34 for 380 yards with one TD and one interception.
“I love this group in here,” Masoli said. “These guys fought hard until the end. We lost, came up short, but you could see our resiliency on the field for sure.”
It was the first meeting between the Bombers and Redblacks since Paul LaPolice, who left his position as Bombers offensive coordinator after the team’s 2019 Grey Cup victory, took the head coaching job in Ottawa.
"We moved the ball well, but we hurt ourselves with some penalties to keep us backed up and prevented ourselves from getting field goals,” LaPolice said.
Shaquille Johnson had a TD reception for Ottawa. Lewis Ward made field goals from 17, 39 and 43 yards and was good on one convert. Winnipeg (1-0) also conceded a single.
Winnipeg got touchdowns from receiver Greg Ellingson and backup quarterback Dakota Prukop. Liegghio also made a 20-yard field goal and one convert.
The game was tied 7-7 after the first quarter. Ottawa led 11-10 at halftime and 14-10 after the third.
“I think there’s a lot of other things that we’ll look at,” O’Shea said. “That’s certainly a positive, but that will not be the focal point. The focal point will be how did we put ourselves in that position?”
A broken play helped set up the game’s first touchdown.
Collaros was under pressure and scrambled, then flipped a shovel pass to running back Brady Oliveria for a 24-yard gain to Ottawa’s three-yard line. After a two-yard loss on an Oliveira run, Collaros connected with Ellingson for a five-yard TD at 8:44.
The Redblacks responded with Johnson getting behind coverage and catching a 20-yard pass in the end zone at 10:47.
The teams traded field goals in the second quarter, leaving the game tied 10-10 at 4:25. Ottawa went ahead when the Bombers conceded a punt single at 11:19.
The Redblacks missed opportunities to gain points in the first half. Receiver Jaelon Acklin dropped what could have been a TD pass, while the defence couldn’t hang on to a couple potential interceptions.
Ward’s 39-yard field goal at 9:34 of the third made it 14-10.
With 2:44 remaining in the third quarter, Masoli’s long bomb intended for Justin Hardy was picked off by Bombers defensive back Nick Taylor. The turnover did not yield any points.
After a turnover on downs by Ottawa, Winnipeg marched the ball down the field for Prukop’s one-yard touchdown run. Liegghio’s point after was wide to give the Bombers a 16-14 lead at 8:50 of the fourth quarter.
The Redblacks regained the lead with 3:30 remaining on Ward’s 43-yard field goal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2022.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press