With the game on the line, Cody Fajardo and Tyson Philpot handed the Montreal Alouettes the most unlikely Gray Cup title.

Fajardo’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Philpot with 15 seconds left lifted Montreal to a thrilling 28-24 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday in Hamilton. It earned the Alouettes their first CFL title since 2010 and followed an uncertain offseason that saw the franchise take over the league in February and then be sold a month later to businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau.

Fajardo’s throw capped a stellar seven-play, 83-yard drive. It included a decisive 31-yard pass to Cole Spieker on third-and-five before a sold-out Tim Hortons Field crowd of 28,808 as Montreal finished its season with eight straight wins.

“Growing up as a kid, you always want to have the ball in your hands and the game on the biggest stage,” Fajardo said. “I remember going out to the field, it was very calm.

“I know once Cole made that play, I said, ‘Everything happens for a reason.'”

Winnipeg had one last chance for a comeback. Zach Collaros completed a pass to punter Jamieson Sheahan, who attempted to kick the ball into the end zone but fell short and was recovered by Montreal.

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Montreal Alouettes win Gray Cup over Winnipeg Blue Bombers

featured videoThe Montreal Alouettes shocked the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with a late-game touchdown to win the 2023 Gray Cup with a final score of 28-24.

“He [Fajardo] “He channeled his inner Ricky Ray,” said Montreal defensive lineman Shawn Lemon, who won a Gray Cup with Ray in Toronto in 2017. “Maybe it was the mustache, but we did it.

“We are champions”.

“Cool, calm and serene”

Fajardo also earned his first win in 10 head-to-head matches against Collaros.

Philpot, 23, of Delta, BC, led the Canadian with six receptions for 63 yards. He said there was a quiet confidence in the Montreal group in the winning campaign.

“Cool, calm and collected,” he said. “We knew throughout the game that they weren’t stopping us, we were the ones stopping ourselves.

“So we had to do our job, do it little by little and work our way down the field. That’s what we did.”

Winnipeg, in the Gray Cup for the fourth straight year, suffered a second straight loss after beating Hamilton in 2019 and 2021. The Toronto Argonauts beat the Bombers 24-23 last year.

“If you look at the whole game, we’re missing a few plays,” Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said. “That’s all.

“And they made some plays. They made some plays in good, timely positions.”

Fajardo has ‘given everything he had for this team’

Fajardo completed 21 of 26 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns and one interception to claim Most Valuable Player honors. He won his first Gray Cup as a starter after winning a ring with Toronto in 2017 as a backup.

Heady stuff, considering little was expected this season from Montreal, which lost quarterback Trevor Harris and receiver Eugene Lewis in free agency. But general manager Danny Maciocia hired head coach Jason Maas and hired Fajardo when Saskatchewan left both (Maas was the Roughriders’ offensive coordinator) after losing its final seven games of the regular season to miss the CFL playoffs.

Fajardo seriously contemplated retiring before signing with Montreal. This week, Fajardo called the Alouettes “a band of misfit toys.”

“Danny offered me a two-year deal when most teams were offering me a one-year deal and that’s what solidified it for us,” he said. “My wife [Laura] He said, ‘You’re not done yet, you’re not going to finish like we did, losing seven games in a row and basically getting sent off. [Saskatchewan].

“I owe her everything, I owe her tonight.”

A soccer player points in the air while holding his son.
Alouettes quarterback Cody Fajardo (7) holds his son Luca as he celebrates Montreal’s Gray Cup victory. Fajardo was named MVP with 290 passing yards and three touchdowns. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Maas won his fourth Gray Cup, but his first as head coach. His first two came as a quarterback with Edmonton (2003, ’05) before winning in 2012 as Toronto’s quarterbacks coach.

But Maas was happy to see his quarterback turn in a key performance.

“It suits him because he puts his heart and soul into everything he does,” Maas said. “He has given everything he had for this team.

“It’s good to see the offense there at the end when it really needed it. He’s the leader in that.”

Oliveira’s stellar effort spoiled

The loss marred a stellar effort by Winnipeg running back Brady Oliveira. The Canadian CFL standout rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown, his third 100-yard rushing performance in as many games this year against Montreal.

Dakota Prukop’s four-yard run at 9:32 of the quarter put Winnipeg ahead 24-21. Fajardo had given Montreal a 21-17 lead, its first of the game, with a 13-yard touchdown pass at 3:48 to Austin Mack, who had six receptions for 103 yards.

The 28-yard scoring drive was set up by Philpot’s 30-yard punt return.

Collaros, the first CFL quarterback to start four consecutive Gray Cups, finished 19 of 23 passing for 236 yards with one interception.

Bighill and Schoen play in Winnipeg

Linebacker Adam Bighill (right calf) and receiver Dalton Schoen (ankle) played for Winnipeg even though neither of them practiced this week. Bighill was injured in last week’s Western Division final, while Schoen, the club’s top catcher, had not played since Oct. 6.

Both saw action but each was substituted throughout the contest. Schoen had three catches for 36 yards while Bighill recorded a tackle.

Montreal, which entered the game as eight-point underdogs, won its eighth Gray Cup in 19 appearances.

Winnipeg’s Sergio Castillo scored three conversions and a field goal.

William Stanback and Spieker scored Montreal’s other touchdowns. David Cote added four converts.

Fajardo’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Spieker, with Bighill trying to defend, pulled Montreal within 17-14 with 1:43 of the third. Winnipeg threatened, driving to the Als’ nine-yard line before Kabion Ento intercepted Collaros in the end zone.

A solid defensive stance gave Winnipeg its 17-7 halftime lead. Middle linebacker Shayne Gauthier, playing where Bighill would normally be, stopped Montreal quarterback Caleb Evans on third-and-one with eight seconds left.

That could have been a turning point in the game. Instead, he galvanized the Alouettes.

“It probably gave them a lot of momentum, but it didn’t kill us,” Maas said. “Just go out there and play another 30 minutes as hard as we can, leave everything on the line and play for each other.”

Added linebacker Darnell Sankey, who joined the Alouettes in September: “We just got together and said, ‘We believe. We’re not going to lose. We’re not going to lose.’ That’s exactly what we came and did. We brought it to them.” .

Prukop’s one-yard run at 12:08 of the second gave Winnipeg a 17-7 lead. 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 touchdown run at 14:55 of the first cut cut Winnipeg’s lead to 10-7. The four-play, 77-yard drive was an impressive response to Oliveira’s five-yard touchdown run in the 12th minute that capped the Bombers’ eight-play, 66-yard possession that was aided by an unnecessary and questionable roughness call. on Mustafa Johnson of Montreal.

Castillo opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal at 6:28 and Winnipeg had possession for 11 minutes, five seconds in the quarter.

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