Saskatchewan Roughriders hire Argos defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace as new coach

REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders have hired Corey Mace to be the team's next head coach, the team announced Thursday.

Mace spent the last two seasons as defensive co-ordinator for the Toronto Argonauts, helping the team to a Grey Cup in 2022 and a 16-2 record this past season.

He succeeds Craig Dickenson as Saskatchewan's head coach. The Riders announced Dickenson would not have his contract renewed on Oct. 23 after Saskatchewan went 6-12 and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

Dickenson had been the Riders head coach since 2019.

“Saskatchewan is an incredibly special place, and I could not be more excited to be the next head coach of this storied franchise,” Mace said in a release. “I am committed to bringing Rider Nation a team they can be proud of both on and off the field, and to give back to this province that gives our organization so much."

The Roughriders were scheduled to introduce Mace at a press conference Friday morning in Regina.

The 37-year-old Mace, from Port Moody, B.C., also won two Grey Cups with the Calgary Stampeders, once as a player (2014) and once as a defensive line coach (2018), before joining the Argos.

Mace played for the Stampeders from 2010 to 2015 before retiring and coaching the defensive line. He became the Argos DC in 2022.

Mace was selected by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers out of the University of Wyoming in the second round of the 2007 CFL draft but played his first three pro seasons with the NFL's Buffalo Bills before joining Calgary.

“From the get-go, Corey blew me away with his strong vision to lead the Saskatchewan Roughriders, his exceptional communication skills and his laser-focus on winning,” Roughriders vice president of football operations and general manager Jeremy O’Day said in a release. 

“But beyond his proven record as a top coach in the CFL, he also demonstrated a deep understanding of Saskatchewan and its people and a commitment to give back to our community. I am thrilled to welcome him and his family to the Roughriders and to get to work on a successful 2024 season.”

The hiring of Mace means Buck Pierce will likely stay as offensive co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Pierce was reportedly a finalist for the Saskatchewan job, and Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said Wednesday he was preparing for Pierce's possible departure.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.


Bombers GM Walters expects tricky off-season, with OC Pierce possibly on the move

WINNIPEG — Kyle Walters doesn’t need a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas.

The newly extended Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager told reporters Wednesday he expects a challenging off-season putting the pieces together for next year’s CFL roster.

He also admitted there’s an unknown right now when it comes to keeping offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce.

Reports this week have pointed to Pierce and Toronto defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace as the final candidates interviewing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head-coaching vacancy.

“We’re a year older now and I think this will be a more-challenging off-season than in years past because of the transition and the potential loss of Buck,” said Walters, who signed a two-year extension this week.

“If Buck ends up leaving, that’s another piece that needs to be added and getting familiar with whoever that may be if Buck leaves.”

He’s crossing his fingers an answer is around the corner.

"Hopefully sooner rather than later that Saskatchewan can make their decision and get rolling because the domino effect, one layer or another, will have to follow up with those decisions," Walters said.

 Walters has been Winnipeg's GM since being promoted from assistant coach and assistant GM in November 2013.

He said assistant GM and director of U.S. scouting Danny McManus and senior assistant GM and director of player personnel Ted Goveia also signed extensions through 2025, when Winnipeg hosts the Grey Cup.

The trio has crafted teams that have appeared in the past four Grey Cup games. Winnipeg won in 2019 and 2021, but lost 24-23 to Toronto in 2022 and 28-24 to the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 19.

That group, along with head coach Mike O’Shea and his assistant coaches, will soon meet and map out a roster plan that takes into account various factors.

“You study the performance of a player and you have to assume, try to predict how they’re going to be next year,” Walters said. “You speak with your medical staff at length about guys.

“And salaries have a lot to do with it, too. Generally, the older guys, rightfully so, are making more money. … It’s an individual-by-individual basis. That will be interesting discussions over the next few weeks.”

The CFL salary cap is increasing next season to $5.525 million from $5.45 million per team. That’s an extra $75,000 Walters has to play with, which he described as “fairly minuscule.”

Players will look for raises, particularly pending free agent Brady Oliveira. The running back led the CFL in rushing with 1,534 yards and was the league’s top Canadian and finalist for most outstanding player.

Oliveira said at the end of the season his agent will seek tryouts with NFL teams, but he’d return to his hometown team if the core group is back and he earns what he deserves.

Star receiver Dalton Schoen may try again to connect with an NFL club, but would be a coveted CFL free agent.

Walters will be ready to make his pitches whenever the time comes.

“You put a plan together with what you think is a fair offer and every time the agents think vastly differently,” Walters said. “So, it’s quite a process, particularly with the high-end guys who deserve to explore the market value and they’ve earned the right to capitalize financially on their success.”

Winnipeg’s entire starting offensive line are pending free agents and range in age from 29 to 37-year-old perennial all-star tackle Stanley Bryant.

The men in the trenches will be a priority, Walters said.

“We kind of pride ourselves on starting with the offensive line, so I’m sure that will be the first point,” he said. “We’ll make sure we’ve got a good group. We’d like to bring them back and we’ll start that process, too. “

O’Shea told reporters earlier this week that a couple players are considering retirement, but didn’t point to anyone in particular.

Walters is willing to wait a bit and find out. 

“The loss (to Montreal) was so emotional that I think a lot of guys talked and were upset and made some statements or let it be known that (retirement) could potentially be an option,” he said.

“I think the best thing is to let things settle down for a month, take a deep breath and revisit guys with what’s their plan and what are we thinking for next year.”

Although he only got his contract extension this week, Walters doesn’t think the delay has had an impact.

“Once we get going and put a plan in place together in regards to who’s coming back, who we can afford, what the coaches’ input is, we’ll get her rolling and just keep going.”  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.

Lions, Redblacks to play regular-season CFL game in Victoria next season

VICTORIA — The B.C. Lions will host the Ottawa Redblacks in a regular-season CFL game in Victoria next season.

The game, dubbed "Touchdown Pacific" by the league, will be played Saturday Aug. 31 at Royal Athletic Park.

The league says the venue will be expanded to accommodate between 10,000 and 14,000 fans, including standing room.

"We have long stated that the Lions are British Columbia’s team and being born and raised in Victoria, I am honoured to have the opportunity to see our team play in the provincial capital," Lions owner Amar Doman said in a release.

The game will mark the sixth instalment of the CFL's "Touchdown Series," which seeks to grow the game by bringing a regular-season game to a neutral site, but the first in Victoria.

The previous five versions, all dubbed "Touchdown Atlantic," were all hosted by cities in Atlantic Canada.

The Toronto Argonauts defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders on July 29 in Halifax in the last "Touchdown Atlantic" game.

“Through this series of neutral site games, we’re building bridges and helping ensure the future of our game," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said.

British Columbia will also host next season's Grey Cup at Vancouver's BC Place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.

Alouettes GM Maciocia: No. 1 priority is to identify the team's core — and keep it

MONTREAL — Danny Maciocia’s off-season outlook compared to last year has flipped on its head.

A year ago, the Montreal Alouettes general manager was on the precipice of having to rebuild his team after several key players left in free agency amid ownership uncertainty.

Now he's working under stable ownership and heads into the off-season with the challenge of keeping a Grey Cup championship team together.

“It’s amazing how much things can change in 12 months,” Maciocia said at his year-end press conference at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.

Maciocia has a new word to describe his team's approach as it begins working toward defending its title.

"We're not rebuilding anymore,” he said. “I think the word moving forward here in 2024 is we're going to reload. 

“We've got a nucleus and a foundation in place that we can just add a few pieces, and hopefully get on a run and compete for a championship every year."

The Alouettes defied expectations with an 11-7 record this season before their run to the Grey Cup, which included a 38-17 win over defending champs Toronto in the East final and a 28-24 upset over Winnipeg in the title game in Hamilton.

Maciocia is well aware it won’t be possible to bring back the entire championship team due to the league’s salary cap. His No. 1 priority in the coming weeks will be to identify the team's core, keep it intact, and build a perennial contender from there.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, the entire receivers' group and some defensive standouts such as safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy remain under contract for next season.

But Montreal has 23 other players who could hit the open market if an agreement isn’t reached before CFL free agency opens on Feb. 13 at noon ET, including defensive lineman Shawn Lemon and linebackers Darnell Sankey and Tyrice Beverette.

Lemon and Sankey joined the team midseason and played key roles in shaping the Alouettes' defence, which led the team to success most of the year. 

Beverette blossomed into a CFL East Division all-star with 89 defensive tackles and seven sacks.

Maciocia said contract discussions have already begun with all three players.

"I would say those three are probably part of this nucleus that I've been talking about,” he said. “It's a matter of coming to an agreement, so there's work to do.

“The good news is the organization wants them back and these three players want to be back."

Beyond retaining the nucleus, Maciocia didn’t note any specific areas he felt the Alouettes needed to improve this off-season.

Fajardo battled through more than his fair share of hits after Montreal allowed 61 sacks this season, which points to needed improvements on the offensive line, but the Alouettes only allowed two sacks in the Grey Cup.

Maciocia listed most of the positions on his team Wednesday before saying, “Can we go with the same group next year? Why not.”

"We're just going to take a look at the free agent market and maybe fill a spot or two,” he said. “We're not in that mode where (we're saying) 'please raise your hand if you want to play for the Montreal Alouettes.' We're at a different place."

One position that’s up in the air, however, is at running back. 

Starting halfback William Stanback is another pending free agent, along with fellow running backs Walter Fletcher and Jeshrun Antwi.

Stanback, the league’s rushing yards leader in 2021, had an up-and-down season coming off an ankle injury in 2022 and totalled 800 yards in 14 games.

Maciocia said he's scheduled to sit down with the 29-year-old this week to go over his future.

"I'll be curious to see how he felt about his season,” said Maciocia. “Of course, he'll say it was a great season after winning a championship, but I'd like to see how he views his future. We'll sit down and go over it in detail."

Would the Alouettes consider transitioning to Fletcher as the starter?

"I honestly don't know, but it's definitely a discussion we're going to sit down and talk in detail about in the coming days,” said Maciocia. “We have choices to make and I hope we'll choose well."

Head coach Jason Maas, who Maciocia has repeatedly called his best acquisition, will be back next season. He expects most of his assistants to return to the sidelines with him.

Maciocia also said the entire football operations staff is under contract for next season, and he hasn't received any calls from other teams looking to hire from within the Alouettes organization.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.

Blue Bombers hand two-year extension to general manager Kyle Walters

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have signed general manager Kyle Walters to a two-year contract extension.

Assistant GM and director of U.S. scouting Danny McManus and senior assistant GM and director of player personnel Ted Goveia will also remain with the team.

Walters has served as Winnipeg's general manager since being promoted from assistant coach and GM in November 2013.

Winnipeg has made four consecutive Grey Cup appearances, beating Hamilton in 2019 and 2021 before falling to Toronto in 2022 and Montreal earlier this month.

The 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic.

McManus and Goveia will both be entering their 10th seasons with Winnipeg in 2024.

Walters was scheduled to meet with reporters on Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2023.

Bombers coach Mike O'Shea confirms outside interest in OC Buck Pierce

WINNIPEG — Mike O’Shea knows he may lose some talented players in the off-season, but his coaching staff might also take a hit.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach confirmed Monday that one CFL team has been given permission to speak to offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce.

The only club officially looking for a head coach next season is the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who didn’t renew Craig Dickenson’s contract after the team finished 6-12 and missed the playoffs.

O’Shea said he’s talked to Pierce as a friend.

“I want whatever is best for Buck and his family. Really,” he said.

He said he is not aware of any teams asking to speak to others on his coaching staff, but wouldn’t be surprised if there were some requests before his staff’s contracts expire next month.

“You bank on some change,” O’Shea said. “We've got a good staff. I mean, why wouldn't teams want our guys?”

The Blue Bombers are coming off their fourth consecutive appearance in the Grey Cup and second straight loss.

The heavily favoured squad lost 28-24 to the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 19 in Hamilton, a disappointing follow-up to last year’s 24-23 upset at the hands of the Toronto Argonauts.

“I imagine at some point down the road, even years from now, I’ll just, all of a sudden, let out some primal scream and say, ‘Damn, had a chance,’” O’Shea said of the loss to the Alouettes.

“Once again, as I said after the game, credit to Montreal. They certainly made a few more plays than we did, especially at the end.”

Montreal drove down the field late in the fourth quarter, overcoming a third-and-five situation before quarterback Cody Fajardo connected with receiver Tyson Philpot in the end zone for the 19-yard winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining.

The Bombers finished the regular season with a 14-4 record, one fewer win than the previous year. The team captured the Grey Cup in 2019 and 2021. The 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winnipeg has 36 players who are pending free agents in February, a high number that isn’t unusual in a league that often hands out one-year contracts.

What is unique for the Blue Bombers right now is that longtime general manager Kyle Walters is working on an expiring contract.

O’Shea said the uncertainty with Walters makes it difficult to look ahead to 2024, but he still expects him to be back. O’Shea is signed through 2025, when Winnipeg hosts the Grey Cup.

When players spoke to the media while cleaning out their lockers last week, many confirmed they’d like to return to the Bombers but others left question marks.

Pending free-agent running back Brady Oliveira said his agent is trying to set up workouts with NFL teams in the off-season, but he’d re-join his hometown team if the core group is back and he gets a contract he thinks he deserves.

Oliveira, 26, was named the CFL’s top Canadian and runner-up for most outstanding player in his second season as Winnipeg’s starter. He led the league in rushing with 1,534 yards — the second-highest total by a Canadian in league history after Jon Cornish ran for 1,813 yards with the Calgary Stampeders in 2013.

The five-foot-10 222-pound tailback recorded nine touchdowns along the ground and also caught 38 passes for 482 yards and four TDs. Last year, he ran for 1,001 yards and four TDs and added 252 receiving yards with one TD.

O’Shea said he wouldn’t want Oliveria to leave without trying to work out a deal, just as the team did in past seasons before Canadian star running back Andrew Harris signed with Toronto in 2022.

“He had a massive year. Fantastic year,” O’Shea said of Oliveira. “We've done it before. We had a very good one before Brady, too.

“So we've certainly made it work in a cap system before. Once again, we'll have to formulate a strategy and figure out what we're going to do. Obviously, we want him back.”

Winnipeg’s entire starting offensive line are pending free agents and range in age from 29 to 37-year-old perennial all-star tackle Stanley Bryant.

While “a couple” Bombers might be done playing, O’Shea wouldn’t say which ones are considering retirement.

He doesn’t buy the view the team is getting too old.

“I don't look at our roster right now and look down the list and say, 'Here's a couple guys that have aged out.' They're too good, and they work too well together,” O’Shea said.

“You need that experience, too. And we do have some young guys that are best-in-the-league-calibre players, too.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

CFL all-star, Grey Cup and Super Bowl champ Harald Hasselbach dead at 56

Harald Hasselbach, who won a Grey Cup and two Super Bowls over his professional football career, has died, the Calgary Stampeders said Thursday. 

He was 56.

The family of the Dutch-born, Canadian-raised defensive lineman said Hasselbach had cancer, the Stampeders said in a release.

Hasselbach, who attended South Delta Secondary School in Tsawwassen, B.C., and the University of Washington, was a fifth-round draft pick by the Stampeders in 1989.

He played 50 games for Calgary from 1990-'93, helping the Stampeders to a Grey Cup title in 1992. He was a West Division and league all-star in his final season.

Hasselbach joined the Denver Broncos in 1994 and played 112 games for the NFL team over seven seasons. He won the Super Bowl with the Broncos in 1998 and '99. 

Stampeders president John Hufnagel, who was a coach with Calgary during Hasselbach's playing days, called the lineman a "great Canadian."

“Harald was  a championship-calibre player for the Stampeders at a significant time in the franchise’s history," Hufnagel said. "We extend our condolences to his family and friends.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2023.

Struggling Edmonton Elks to review ownership structure

Edmonton's CFL team has struck a committee to review its ownership structure.

The goal of the five-person committee is to ensure professional football continues to thrive in northern Alberta, the Elks said Thursday in a statement.

Elks interim president and chief executive officer Rick LeLacheur, who serves on the committee as a non-voting member, said the "club’s financial struggles over the last several seasons can't be overlooked."

"The impacts of the COVID pandemic, football operations decisions, and subsequent struggles on the field have all contributed to a difficult financial situation," he said. 

The committee includes board members Tom Richards, Brent Hesje and Darryl Boessenkool, along with previous board members Diane Brickner and Bruce Bentley, who serves as chair.

The team had an operating loss of $3.3 million in 2022, which was the fourth straight year the community-owned club ran a deficit. 

LeLacheur said he's confident the Elks will operate in 2024, but new investment is needed for the future.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2023.

Former CFL star Cory Philpot watches his son, Tyson, make Grey Cup-winning catch

Once again, the Grey Cup provided Cory Philpot with a myriad of emotions.

On Sunday, the former CFL star was at Tim Hortons Field when his son, Tyson, scored the decisive touchdown in the Montreal Alouettes' 28-24 upset win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That came 29 years after the elder Philpot played a big role in the B.C. Lions' iconic 26-23 title victory over the Baltimore Football Club.

Tyson Philpot caught Cody Fajardo's 19-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining. Fittingly, Fajardo (290 yards passing three TDs) was named the game MVP while Philpot (six catches, 63 yards, touchdown) earned top Canadian honours.

"I'm proud, I'm excited, I'm still kind of shocked," Cory Philpot said Wednesday via telephone from his B.C. residence. "I'm not one of those fathers who thought his kids would go pro.

"We (as parents) do things for our kids and put things in front of them. Fortunately my boys believed they could be talented, believed they could succeed and have just taken it and run with it."

Philpot had a feeling something big was in store for his son. Tyson's twin brother Jalen — a second-year receiver with the Calgary Stampeders who's older by seven minutes — predicted the outcome before it happened.

"I was sitting with (Jalen) and we were talking about the game," Philpot said. "All of a sudden, Jalen said, 'He's going to win the game for these guys.'

"When Tyson was running the post, Jalen said, 'Dad, he's got it, he's about to score.' I was like, 'What?' and then all of a sudden he scored. It was exciting, tears were running down our faces. We were just blown away."

Unknown to Philpot, his sons spoke privately before the game, with the older sibling giving the younger some prophetic advice.

"Jalen told Tyson the game was going to come down to a big play and for him to just go out and do what he had to do," Philpot said. "I thought that was awesome, Jalen giving Tyson that little bit of confidence that he believed in him as well."

In Sunday's post-game celebration, Tyson Philpot said he now had bragging rights over his brother but that achieving his childhood dream with his family watching, "was so surreal."

"Jalen was drafted ahead of me so it's a little bit bragging rights," he said. "At the end of the day, though, he's so proud of me and it was the first time we actually cried together.

"I dreamt about this as a young kid. I watched the CFL my whole life and to be on this stage and make an impact like I did is a dream."

Philpot's sons followed him into the CFL in 2022 when both were first-round draft picks (Jalen fifth overall to Calgary, Tyson ninth overall to Montreal). The twins played collegiately at Calgary, earning Vanier Cup rings in 2019.

Cory Philpot was a running back with B.C. (1993-97) and Winnipeg (1999-2000). He helped the Lions win the '94 Grey Cup, rushing for 109 yards against Baltimore.

Lui Passaglia's 38-yard boot on the final play gave B.C. the win after he missed from 37 yards out with 1:02 remaining.

That game marked the first time a non-Canadian franchise had appeared in the Grey Cup. For many, the contest was pegged as the U.S. versus Canada because Baltimore's roster consisted of Americans.

However, the Alouettes win Sunday drew some very interesting parallels for Philpot. Baltimore relocated to Montreal after the '95 season, Cory Philpot was in his second CFL season when he won a Grey Cup — like his son — and he finished his career with Winnipeg.

When his sons were young, Philpot said they participated in many sports.

"The boys played hockey and I thought they were going to be hockey players," he said. "They played basketball, they played broomball, they played T-ball.

"We put them into every sport they could possibly want to play in and then one day in Grade 8 they said, 'Hey Dad, we're going to stick with football,' and we just let them do their own thing."

Philpot, a 53-year-old Florida native, played collegiately at Ole Miss and has remained heavily involved in B.C. football. He's currently the operations manager for the British Columbia Provincial Football Association and in '15 was its first president.

In 2021, Philpot served as the Langley Rams head coach when they captured their first Canadian Bowl title. But he said when one of his sons achieves something in football, the other usually isn't far behind which could be a good omen for the Stampeders.

"It's been flowing like that all of their lives," he said. "Hopefully we'll have a third Philpot somewhere on that (Grey Cup) trophy in the years to come."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.

Alouettes fans turn up in numbers for Grey Cup parade in downtown Montreal

MONTREAL — Some dreary November weather didn't stop Montreal Alouettes fans from turning up in numbers at the Grey Cup championship parade on Wednesday.

Fans lined the streets of De Maisonneuve Boulevard, filled "Quartier des Spectacles" and waved their Quebec flags in downtown Montreal to celebrate the first Alouettes title since 2010, and the eighth in franchise history.

Montreal upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 in the 110th Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

The weather in Montreal hovered around two degrees Celsius and reached a high of four as light rain fell on and off throughout the overcast afternoon.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who was named Grey Cup MVP, said the subpar weather was fitting after multiple games in Montreal were delayed due to Mother Nature.

"There's been some weather delays and our fans stuck through it,” said Fajardo after the parade. “The weather wasn't very great today in the parade, but they showed out.

“I had no idea how great it was going to be and then I went to it, and experienced it, and I'll remember that for the rest of my life."

Fajardo threw 290 passing yards and completed a game-winning drive in the final minute with his third touchdown pass of the game to lead the Alouettes to a title.

The fans made sure to give their quarterback some love by chanting “M-V-P!” throughout the afternoon.

"The MVP chants are pretty high on my list (of things I’ll remember),” said Fajardo. “I got a couple of videos on my phone of people chanting MVP, and it's something that nobody will ever be able to take away from me — we're Grey Cup champs and the Grey Cup is back home where it belongs.”

It wasn’t the first rodeo for veteran defensive lineman Shawn Lemon, who won Grey Cups with the Calgary Stampeders in 2014 and the Toronto Argonauts in 2017.

The 35-year-old says neither lived up to what he witnessed on Wednesday.

"That was amazing," said Lemon. "I've never seen nothing like this, it's my third championship, I lost my voice already. I've never seen a parade and everything like that. The city of Montreal did it great by us."

Owner Pierre Karl Péladeau, a Québécois billionaire who has stayed relatively outside the public eye since buying the team in March, made an appearance on stage at Le Parterre, a public square in the “Quartier des Spectacle” and led some “Olé, Olé, Olé” chants.

The Alouettes started free agency in February without an owner and lost several key players, leading many pundits to rank the team near the bottom of the league before the season began.

They defied expectations in the regular season by going 11-7 before defeating Hamilton, defending Grey Cup winners Toronto and perennial contender Winnipeg in the playoffs en route to the title.

“Hey! Montreal! Not bad for a team that was ranked ninth by the experts!” Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia yelled from the stage.

Multiple homegrown Alouettes players said they didn’t attend the last championship parade in 2010 because school was in session.

Wednesday’s attendance received a boost due to a provincewide public sector strike keeping schools closed between Tuesday and Thursday.

Longtime Alouettes season-ticket holder Sebastien Dreyfuss attended the parade with his Grade school-aged son, Florian, and his friend, Emilian.

Under other circumstances, that wouldn’t have been the case.

“School is more important than the Alouettes,” said Dreyfuss.

Both kids said they were happy with the way things worked out.

“I think it helped,” said Alouettes kicker David Cote of Quebec City. “So much the better that there were more kids, we’re kind of role models for them, and if we can influence more kids to want to play football and come see us play, then we’ve done our job.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.

Oliveira looks south, Blue Bombers face questions after Grey Cup loss

WINNIPEG — Brady Oliveira wants to head south this winter, but not for a vacation.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers star running back said Tuesday that his agent is talking to NFL teams to try to get him workouts, parlaying the personal success he had this CFL season into achieving another dream.

“Playing here is a dream but the NFL stuff, ever since I started playing football was to play at the highest possible level,” Oliveira said as the Blue Bombers cleaned out their lockers after Sunday’s still-stinging 28-24 Grey Cup loss to the Montreal Alouettes.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t come back if things don't pan out.

“If the NFL doesn’t work out, I want to be here in Winnipeg,” Oliveira said.

The Winnipeg-born pending free agent was named the CFL’s top Canadian and was runner-up for most outstanding player in his second season as the club’s starter.

Oliveira, 26, led the league in rushing with 1,534 yards – the second-highest total by a Canadian in league history after Jon Cornish ran for 1,813 yards with the Calgary Stampeders in 2013.

The five-foot-10, 222-pound tailback recorded nine touchdowns along the ground and also caught 38 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns.

“The last two seasons that I’ve put together I think were good, good enough to get what I deserve, right?” Oliveira said.

“But we’ll see. You never really know, but I definitely want to be here if they bring the right core group back together.”

Oliveira rushed for 1,001 yards and four TDs in 2022 and added 252 receiving yards with one TD.

The Blue Bombers may be in a bit of a quandary about negotiating with players as general manager Kyle Walters is working on an expiring contract.

Walters told reporters during Grey Cup week in Hamilton that he expected his future to be sorted out shortly after the season. He said he’d love to remain with the Bombers, a team he joined in 2013 as interim GM before being promoted the following year.

The Bombers (14-4) had been trying to win their third Grey Cup in four years and redeem themselves after a 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argonauts in 2022. They hoisted the trophy in 2019 and 2021.

A lot of players from that four-year run are pending free agents, including 32-year-old defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat.

“I want to be back in Winnipeg. I love it here,” said Jeffcoat, who’s played six seasons for the Bombers.

“But we've got to see how negotiations go and how all that goes. We've got to hire a GM here, so we've got to figure that out first."

Jeffcoat played 14 games because of injuries and registered 21 defensive tackles, eight quarterback sacks and three forced fumbles.

“I check out everything,” Jeffcoat said when asked if he’s thought about retirement. “I’m not saying no to it, but it’s not at the top of my mind right now.”

Jefferson, who lives year-round in Winnipeg with his family, said he “most definitely” wants to return for a fifth season. The fan favourite recorded 21 tackles, 11 sacks and three forced fumbles in 17 games.

Star receiver Dalton Schoen is also a pending free agent. He suffered an ankle injury Oct. 6 and only stepped on the field again in the Grey Cup. He caught three passes for 36 yards.

He and veteran middle linebacker Adam Bighill, who injured a calf in the West Division Final win over the B.C. Lions on Nov. 11, were game-time decisions for the championship match.

Bighill said he believed it was the right decision to let him play in the Grey Cup, especially because the plan was for him to play a role, not every snap.

“I think we executed that,” said Bighill, 35, who has one more year on his contract.

What didn’t work out was a third-quarter play that led to a Montreal touchdown. Bighill couldn’t keep up with Cole Spieker on his 23-yard catch-and-run into the end zone that narrowed Winnipeg’s lead to 17-14.

Bighill said there was miscommunication on that play that Montreal exploited.

It was one of a number of plays the Bombers wish they could have back, including quarterback Zach Collaros being intercepted by Kabion Ento in the end zone and Montreal driving down the field for Tyson Philpot’s game-winning TD with 13 seconds left.

“That’s one that will haunt me for a long time,” Collaros said of the end-zone pick. “If I had to do it again, I’d probably just want to hand the football off."

Collaros, who’s signed through 2025 when Winnipeg hosts the Grey Cup, said the loss is still hard to process but head coach Mike O’Shea gave players some words of wisdom in a team meeting.

“Just trying to help us in this moment, with the understanding that there’s a lot of really good men here you can lean on, to the days of joy that you stack up during the season working together,” Collaros said.

“It’s hard to find.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.

Alouettes veteran Kristian Matte waited 13 long years to hoist the Grey Cup again

MONTREAL — Kristian Matte still hasn’t come down from cloud nine since the Montreal Alouettes won the Grey Cup.

Matte, a 12-season CFL veteran offensive lineman, was the only remaining player from Montreal’s last title team in 2010 on the Alouettes roster this year.

"It's been 13 years, it's a very long time — I lived it," said Matte on Tuesday at Olympic Stadium.

The 38-year-old from St. Hubert, Que., was also the first to hoist the Grey Cup after Montreal upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 on Sunday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

"The day before the game, Marc-Antoine Dequoy came to see me and said 'when it's time to grab the Cup, you're taking it,'” said Matte, with tears running down his face as he reflected on the moment. “A guy saying that shows everyone wanted it for each other.”

“We all talked about who would lift the Cup first and agreed,” said Dequoy. “It’s Kristian Matte.”

The Alouettes had some tough times between championships, including a run of four straight years of missing the playoffs from 2015 to 2018.

At his age, Matte could consider ending his career on a high note. But even as the game clock struck zero Sunday, the thought of going for a repeat crept in.

"It might be a little silly, but I said to myself, 'OK now we won,' and I already started thinking about what would happen next season,” said Matte. “I said, 'hey, two in a row would be pretty fun.'”

After starting free agency in February without an owner, the Alouettes defied expectations this season by going 11-7 before defeating Hamilton, defending Grey Cup winners Toronto and perennial contender Winnipeg en route to the title.

Is this the start of a run akin to Winnipeg’s two Grey Cup victories — and four appearances — in the last four years? Matte says they’ve steadily been building toward it.

"It's been a few years now that something's been building, it didn't just happen today, yesterday or last week, or even the start of the year,” said Matte.

He noted the arrival of general manager Danny Maciocia in 2020, head coach Jason Maas last December, and new owner Pierre Karl Péladeau in March, to go with an influx of new players, as key building blocks.

"There's a foundation to build off of,” said Matte. “I’m not sure I want to say we can be even better than we were, but I think with what we've got we can build something that will last longer."


Mid-season additions Darnell Sankey and Shawn Lemon played key roles for a Montreal defence that led the team much of the season.

Including the playoffs, the Alouettes went 12-4 after signing Lemon and 8-1 with Sankey. But with both free agents this off-season, will they be back?

"I want to be back. Management understands that and the feeling's mutual," said Lemon.

"That's definitely on the table,” said Sankey of a return. “I'll put it like that."


A lot of plays contributed to Montreal’s Grey Cup win, but a game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on the clock takes the cake.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo led the Alouettes downfield with a 78-yard drive in the final minute before connecting with Tyson Philpot in the end zone from 19 yards out.

"I've watched that play probably 1,000 times now,” said Philpot.

Next up, the wide receiver from Delta, B.C., who earned top Canadian honours at the Grey Cup, is looking for a picture to frame the “surreal moment.”


Dequoy lit social media on fire with his passionate post-victory interview on French television station RDS, taking issue with the league’s lack of respect toward the French language during and leading up to Grey Cup Week.

The CFL received criticism after the national anthem was sung exclusively in English during the East Division final and also placed little to no French language signs in Hamilton.

Alouettes coach Maas, of Beaver Dam, Wisc., emphasized the importance of Quebec’s official language with little things like having every player know how to say their number in French.

“Just small things like that are special, because we are in Montreal, we are in Quebec, and we’re extremely proud of it,” said Matte.

Philpot, No. 6, had no trouble doing it.

"My number's pretty easy,” he said. “Some of the guys in the 80s, they got a little confused."

The Alouettes had 10 players from Quebec on the championship roster.

Local fans will get the chance to celebrate with their during the Grey Cup parade beginning Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET in Montreal at the corner of De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Crescent Street.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.

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