WINNIPEG - Chris Garrett says he's dreamed of winning the Grey Cup and being named most valuable player.
Now the Blue Bombers running back has a chance to accomplish that after rushing 29 times for 190 yards and one touchdown as Winnipeg defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-3 in Sunday's CFL East Division Final.
Winnipeg advances to the 99th Grey Cup in Vancouver on Nov. 27 and will face B.C. Lions after the Lions defeated the Edmonton Eskimos 40-23 in the West Division Final.
“It’s getting closer and closer to being true,” Garrett said of the dream where he scores a pair of touchdowns. “But there’s some work to be done to get to that stage. I’m just ready to work so I can get there.”
The second-year tailback got the Bombers’ starting job after Fred Reid and backup Carl Volny suffered season-ending knee injuries in late September.
"I just got an opportunity and I'm just playing the way I know how to play," said Garrett of taking over the starting job. "I've been doing this at every level."
Winnipeg's last Grey Cup win was in 1990, a 50-11 victory over Edmonton in Vancouver.
The Bombers have played in the championship game four times since that last win, losing in 2007, 2001, 1993 and ’92.
Defensive lineman Jason Vega scored Winnipeg’s other touchdown as a receiver and Justin Palardy booted field goals from 22 and 37 yards.
It was the rookie Vega’s second reception this season and his first career TD will go down as a three-yard pass from backup quarterback Alex Brink.
“We just tried to switch things up,” Vega said. “On the goal line, there’s only so many things that people expect, just run the ball.
“We practise it all the time. Fortunately enough for me, we had the opportunity to call it and I made the catch.”
Justin Medlock got Hamilton’s lone points with an 18-yard field goal that opened the game’s scoring midway through the first quarter.
Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown joined the Bombers in 2001 and has said he’s retiring at the end of this season.
Finishing his 11-year career with a Grey Cup victory in his home province of B.C. is a final chapter he’d like written.
“It’s already a fairytale just to get to go back home in your last year and have an opportunity to compete for a championship,” said Brown, 37, who was born in New Westminster, B.C.
“But the biggest thing to me of this whole scenario, this whole opportunity, is the fact that the players in this room now have a chance to bring a championship back here after 21 years.”
The temperature at game time was –14 C with the wind chill making it feel like –22 C for a bundled-up sold-out crowd of 30,051 at Canad Inns Stadium. The facility is being demolished as the Bombers are moving to a new stadium at the University of Manitoba next year.
Brown described the weather as “brutally cold” and said he was impressed Winnipeg’s self-titled “Swaggerville” defence held Hamilton to three points.
“I was surprised the guys played as well as they did,” Brown said.
“But at the same time, really great defences, defences that you remember, at the most pivotal of times they step up and make an impact and make a name. That’s what so many guys in this room did (today).”
Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn left the game 4:45 into the third quarter after injuring his knee and was replaced by Quinton Porter.
Glenn was 13-of-18 for 113 yards, while Porter was 3-of-11 for 40 yards with one interception.
Bomber quarterback Buck Pierce had missed his team’s last regular-season game with a sprained knee suffered in a loss Oct. 28 to Toronto.
He was limping a bit during the game, but that wasn’t too surprising considering he ran nine times for 66 yards and completed 16-of-28 passes for 175 yards with one interception.
The seven-year veteran said later the knee was sore, but he was looking forward to going back to B.C. to try to win a second Grey Cup ring.
Pierce started his career with the B.C. Lions, but was let go prior to the 2010 season and picked up by Winnipeg. He won the Cup as a backup during the Lions’ 2006 victory.
“It’s special that I’m going to the Grey Cup with a very, very special group of guys,” said Pierce, who came back this year after dislocating the elbow of his throwing arm in September 2010.
“It’s also special that it is in Vancouver. That’s where I started my career and I have lots of friends out there and still have lots of ties to that community.”
Pierce’s play this season – he’s now started a career-high 17 games – has been one of the reasons for Winnipeg’s stunning turnaround.
The club had a league-low 4-14 record last season, but finished 10-8 this year in a trying season in which defensive line and assistant head coach Richard Harris died of a heart attack in his office in July.
“I hope we can finish the Grey Cup off for him,” Winnipeg head coach Paul LaPolice said of Harris.
Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said the Bombers didn’t show him anything out of the ordinary.
"They just played really well . . .,” he said. “Nothing new, what they've been doing all year."
The Ticats were 8-10 this season and upset the Montreal Alouettes 52-44 in overtime in the East semifinal.
Winnipeg’s domination started soon after Vega scored his touchdown at 4:25 of the second quarter and Palardy followed it up with his 22-yarder.
The Bombers led 10-3 at halftime.
Palardy connected on his 37-yarder midway through the third and Garrett dove in for a three-yard TD as time expired. Winnipeg didn’t attempt a convert.
"It wasn't solely on me. I had 11 other guys that were helping me out," said Garrett. "My hat goes off to my offensive linemen. They did a tremendous job opening up holes. The receivers did their job catches passes upfield. It was an all-out effort by all of us."
Winnipeg finished with 271 yards rushing to Hamilton’s 39 yards.
Ticats starting tailback Avon Cobourne had nine carries for 28 yards.
Veteran Bomber slotback Terrence Edwards hauled in a game-high five catches for 80 yards, while Ticats receiver Bakari Grant had three receptions for 54 yards.
Notes: Each Bomber will earn $8,000 for playing in the Grey Cup. The winner gets an additional $8,000 … Bomber cornerback Brandon Stewart didn't play the second half because of an ankle injury and was replaced by Deon Beasley.
By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press