July 17, 2023

REDBLACKS send Bombers home feeling crummy after improbable comeback

Winnipeg Bluebombers vs Ottawa REDBLACKS July 15, 2023 PHOTO: Andrea Cardin/Freestyle Photography

There’s a good chance RNation still hasn’t recovered the full range of their voice after the Ottawa REDBLACKS completed one of the most ridiculous comebacks you’ll ever see, taking down the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 31-28 in overtime.

Down 18-3 at halftime, and 25-6 by the end of the third quarter, the hypothetical dark cloud seemed to be looming over TD Place, but as time ticked down inside the three-minute warning, something improbably changed.

A pick-six from Brandin Dandridge gave the REDBLACKS a chance, and an incredible drive at the death tied the game, sending it to overtime. Michael Wakefield’s second-down sack forced the Bombers to kick a field goal, setting the table for Dustin Crum to take the field with a chance to win the game.

On first down, Crum swung the ball out to DeVonte Williams for six yards, and on second-and-four, he took off up the middle, beating everyone on the Winnipeg defence, scampering 29 yards into the endzone to win the game.

“It was a matter of being elated for these guys, showing them that the work they have been putting in since training camp has been worth it, and letting them recognize that when they do what they need to do, we’re a very good football team,” said Head Coach Bob Dyce. “Until the final whistle, we have to make sure that we’re working.”

Completing 26 of his 42 passes for 261 yards, while rushing for 103 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries earned Crum high praise. His first half was slow, however, throwing for just 20 yards, while the entire offence was stymied by a strong Blue Bombers defensive unit.

The performance was impressive, but the circumstances in which it came was perhaps even more so.

“There’s not a lot of guys who start their first game against a fantastic Winnipeg team that could be challenged like he was in the first half, and come out and play the second half the way he did,” Dyce said. “That’s a testament to him, and to everybody else, because if the special teams or defence had have let up, it wouldn’t have happened. Everybody came together and took care of one another.”

In the locker room, you’d never know that Crum came into the season as the REDBLACKS’ fourth option at quarterback.

“Thay boy has so much confidence in himself that it’s impossible not to believe in him,” Nate Behar said. “In the huddle, there’s not a single moment where he’s flustered. It’s bordering on arrogance, and I mean that as the biggest compliment possible. You can’t coach that, that’s just Dustin Crum.”

The drive to tie the game was as deja-vu as it can possibly be. It was almost a mirror situation that Crum faced in Hamilton a week ago. Looking at a long field with under a minute to play, down by eight points, needing something special.

In Hamilton, Crum was stopped about two yards short, suffering a crushing defeat. This time, he was determined that it wasn’t going to happen again.

“When I got to the five-yard line, I felt that moment again, and I told myself I wasn’t going sideways this time,” Crum said with a smile. “I was going right through him, and if he stopped me, I could live with that. I wasn’t going to let it happen again, I had that ‘anything it takes’ mindset. That embodies this whole team, that’s something Jeremiah Masoli started for us.”

Crum didn’t do it himself, of course. With the game on the line, others on offence filled their boots, particularly Jaelon Acklin and Nate Behar, who finished the game with 51 and 87 yards respectively, but made heroic catches toward the final whistle, including a pair of two-point convert receptions for Behar.

“It’s not a matter of them stepping up, they were given an opportunity,” Dyce said. “Those guys are playmakers, and I know that when given the situation, when you put the ball on them, they are going to make plays. That’s what they did.”

The fiery comeback, the electric crowd, and the win are all things REDBLACKS fans have come to expect, and internally, that’s no different.

“This is the expectation,” Dyce explained. “It’s great for them to see that, and that’s something that we continue to talk about. When we’re rocking, the atmosphere here is fantastic, and we’re going to continue to build on that. This is our house, and we have to take care of our business here”

Dyce says that this game can serve as proof that no matter the opponent, his football team can beat anyone on any given day. It’s something that has been said for years in the locker room, and in the media, but now, there’s something to point to to prove it.

“It’s not a culture change, it’s a confidence builder,” Behar said. “The biggest thing is doubling down on the confidence we have been talking about, because now there is something tangible to hold to and say this is for real.”

The win is huge, but it’s only the beginning.

“This needs to become standard. Winning teams expect to win,” Crum said. “We need to play a couple of teams that we lost to already this year, so we have to come out with the mindset that we’re going to win those games to get back on track. One win isn’t getting us a successful season.”