Tiger-Cats visit stirs fond memories for Blue Bombers

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Finally, a matchup with some juice, some history.

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After two games against Ottawa, a team they hadn’t seen in three years, Week 3 ought to provide plenty of juice for the Blue Bombers, as the sight of Hamilton black and gold stirs some flashbacks of back-to-back Gray Cup championships .

“It is fond memories,” Bombers linebacker Kyrie Wilson was saying, Wednesday. “But at the same time we’ve got to leave that to last year and keep moving.”

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Except I didn’t want to, so I convinced Wilson to revisit the game-clinching, overtime interception from the 108th Gray Cup, also known as the play of his career.

“That’s gotta be top,” Wilson agreed. “First time, ever, doing something like that. It’s top 1.”

He was laughing, now, reliving one of the most unlikely championship-ending plays you’ll see.

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“It’s crazy how it ended,” Wilson said. “It’s still kind of hard to believe. It’s harder to explain, at the same time. Like, did this really happen?”

Hamilton was down, 33-25, needing to match the Bombers’ touchdown and two-point conversion to stay alive.

The Tiger-Cats faced a second-and-18 on the Winnipeg 43, when a confluence of factors produced the bizarre, final play.

Defensive back Deatrick Nichols was a rookie who’d made tremendous strides since the start of the season.

His biggest improvement? Recognizing plays and game situations as they unfolded, allowing him to play faster, he told me on Wednesday.

Cue the snap.

“It was a man-to-man,” Nichols said, recalling the defensive call. “And my guy went to the flat. And once you get to the flat, you’re most likely getting something behind you.”

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That’s what he’d learned though the year.

“And I took a peek and it was right there,” he said. “A little peek, not too much.”

Nichols laughed, knowing a DB has to be careful not to take his eyes off his own man for too long.

Ticats receiver Jaelon Acklin wasn’t Nichols’ man. But sure enough, he was the intended target.

Nichols’ anticipation was so keen, he was in position to get his hands on Masoli’s pass. Both hands.

The ball slipped through.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I done dropped the game-winning interception,’” Nichols said.

Then he saw cornerback Winston Rose reaching down to his shoe laces in a desperate attempt to keep the deflected ball alive.

“Rose made a great break on that play, as well,” Nichols said. “And he tipped it up.”

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Winnipeg’s defensive coaches constantly preach running to the ball in practice, even after dropped passes. The idea is to make it a habit, just in case.

Wilson, well underneath the play, did just that from his linebacker position.

“I started to open it up to where Masoli was starting to throw the ball,” he said. “And I saw Deadrick about to intercept it.”

But he kept running. Just in case.

“It really all played out, just how it was in practice,” Wilson said. “We always talk about running to the ball, picking up the ball. And it just led over to the game.”

Rose wasn’t available to chat on Wednesday as he didn’t practice much and is questionable for Friday, but he has said what he did next was intentional: scooping the ball up to Wilson.

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“When I look at him, he was,” Wilson said. “I saw him kind of glancing at me. He looked at me and tipped it. I really didn’t have time to think. Just catch the ball. And rolled over and hold it like a baby. Don’t drop that thing.”

Wilson went to his knees clutching the new-born title, and the Bombers sideline went berserk.

While the play may have had more than a few hearts in a few throats, it really couldn’t have been scripted any better: a top-ranked defense that preached team and togetherness sealing the championship with a play that required three men to complete.

“That was most definitely a team-finish win,” Nichols said. “Here, we don’t care who gets the stat. As long as we get the final win, we’re OK.”

What’s at stake Friday may not be the final win, but the 2-0 Bombers, as always, are after it, just the same.

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If the matchup brings fond memories to the home side, we can only imagine what it brings to the visitors.

“Of course,” Nichols said. “The history behind it and everything… we know what we’re up against.”

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“Probably one of the most underrated players in the league.”

That’s how Blue Bombers middle linebacker Adam Bighill described teammate Kyrie Wilson on Wednesday.

Having already played parts of five seasons with the Bombers, Wilson is best known for the interception that clinched last year’s Gray Cup.

But there’s so much more to the 29-year-old California product, even if he’s in the shadows of all-stars around him.

You just won’t hear it from him.

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“I just go play football, man,” Wilson said. “Just do what’s best for the team. If you say I’m underrated, hey… I’ve just got to keep pushing. I don’t let the outside stuff get to me.”

Wilson is coming off an injury-shortened, 2021 season that saw him play just seven regular-season games, the West Final and the Gray Cup.

His 16 regular-season tackles paled in comparison to the 63 he made in 2019. Add three sacks, an interception and a touchdown to that 2019 mix, and he wasn’t far from earning some serious individual recognition.

“You guys are a little late on him,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “He’s been a good player for a long time. It falls under the lines again of when you release a guy, they shouldn’t take your word for it. Because I’m pretty sure we let him go the first year, and then brought him back. He’s got the ability to make plays all over the field, and he does.”

Last season, Wilson saved his best for last, making a season-high five tackles in the Gray Cup, along with the last-play interception.

Through two games this year, he’s at nine tackles and a sack.

“He’s taken strides every single year and he’s playing the best he’s ever played,” Bighill said.
If he keeps up this pace, Wilson may finally get the all-star recognition so many of his teammates have already received.

“Yeah, hopefully,” he said. “Just sticking to the process at the end of the day, though.”

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