By Maggie Hsu, December 5 2023—
The 110th Grey Cup in Hamilton was not lacking in dramatics as Cody Fajardo and the Montreal Alouettes stole the Grey Cup and the establishment of a dynasty from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the very last seconds of the game. Going into the Nov. 19 matchup, the Blue Bombers were looking to take home their third Grey Cup in four years while the Als hadn’t seen the CFL Championship game since 2010. We also witnessed what can be considered the second faceoff of quarterbacks Zach Collaros and Fajardo who used to be teammates with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and competed for the starting position for the green and white.
For the third straight season, the Blue Bombers were a powerhouse of the regular season, finishing at the top of a very competitive West Division, they also led the league in every scoring category. The Blue Bombers booked their ticket into the playoffs for the seventh straight season in September with a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. However, it was yet to be decided if they would secure the highly coveted first place in the Division which would give them a bye through the West Semifinals as the BC Lions would look to challenge the Blue Bombers for their spot in the West Finals.
Despite securing their West Final slot, it wouldn’t be the last time the Lions challenge the Blue Bombers on their road to CFL greatness as they would face off again to see who would represent Western Canada for the Grey Cup. The extra week off would prove to be beneficial as a well-rested Blue Bombers defensive line would stand strong against the Lions’ offence that had just come off an elimination match against the Calgary Stampeders. The Lion’s offensive line was thwarted in their push for points as the Bombers’ defence tied a league playoff record with nine sacks on BC quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr. With a score of 24–13, the Blue Bombers qualified for the 2023 Grey Cup.
In the East, the Alouettes’ journey toward the Grey Cup was equally, if not, more of a challenge. In his first season as a Montreal Alouette, Fajardo needed some time to get used to his new club. With a rollercoaster of winning and losing streaks, the Alouettes had a losing record after week 15 while the Blue Bombers had just made their postseason dreams come true. With an equal record to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Alouettes needed to maintain a winning record to close out the regular season to ensure they could secure home field advantage for the East Semifinals. They succeeded in closing out the season on a five game win streak and continued the winning into the Grey Cup final.
Heading into the final game of the 2023 CFL season, the Blue Bombers had won both of their regular season games against the Alouettes. During their week 4 faceoff, the Blue Bombers overtook the Alouettes with a score of 17–3 with 120 rushing yards from Brady Oliveira while the Alouettes were limited to a combined 93 rushing yards, thanks to a strong performance from the Blue Bombers’ defensive line who also forced four sacks and four giveaways on Fajardo. In their week 12 rematch of their Canada Day game, the Blue Bombers’ defence, once again, showed their strength as they completely shut down the Als’ offence after half-time. Brady Oliveira had another standout performance with 119 rushing yards while the Alouettes offense were quieted to a mere 59 rushing yards.
If the results of the regular season were evidence for how the 110th Grey Cup game would go, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would be the clear winner. However, nothing is certain in the CFL. Until the final three minutes of the final game of the 2023 season, the Blue Bombers had a 24-21 lead over the Montreal Alouettes.
The Alouettes had first and ten at midfield with a minute and a half left in the game. All the Blue Bombers’ defence needed to do was perform like they had all season and shut down the Alouettes’ offence. They succeeded in forcing an eight-yard loss at the first down attempt, sacking Montreal’s Fajardo. However, at second and eighteen, Fajardo was able to find a hole in the Blue Bombers’ defence and rushed 13 yards to close in on the first down. With third and five, Fajardo went deep for Spieker who made the 31-yard catch, putting the Alouettes into prime position for a touchdown and their first Grey Cup since 2010.
With nineteen seconds left on the clock, and likely the last play of the 2023 CFL season, the Montreal Alouettes had first and ten at Winnipeg’s 19-yard line. Fajardo took the snap and threw straight for former University of Calgary Dino, Tyson Philpot for the touchdown with thirteen seconds left. After a punt return by Janarion Grant, the Blue Bombers had only eight seconds at their 42-yard line to score a touchdown. Despite a final hail-mary open field kick from Jamieson Sheahan, Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were not able to complete the play and the Montreal Alouettes were named the 110th Grey Cup Champions.
Fajardo’s dazzling 290 passing yards game earned him the title of Most Valuable Player of the 110th Grey Cup. Meanwhile, Philpot’s game winning reception earned him the Dick Suderman Trophy, presented to the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian — the 7th in franchise history. In only his sophomore season in the CFL Philpot has proven himself to be a valuable asset to the Alouettes as he was for the University of Calgary Dinos.