BOMBSHELLS: Punt returner Grant's CFL debut was something special
It’s not often a player makes his CFL debut this late in the season and makes such an immediate impact.
Janarion Grant became the first Winnipeg Blue Bombers player to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game when he pulled off the feat within the first half of Thursday’s 26-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders at IG Field.
He’s the first player to do it since Keith Stokes in 2002 and just the eighth in CFL history.
Signed on July 23 after a training camp stint with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the former Baltimore Ravens receiver electrified the crowd with TD returns of 76 and 83 yards. In total, he had 306 return yards and was an absolute difference-maker in a game in which the Bombers offence did not get into the end zone.
“He’s shown that he’s pretty special,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “
“What a great debut. Second touch in the CFL, takes it to the house. It was fun to watch.”
Grant also had a lost fumble which didn’t end up costing the Bombers any points.
He was cut by the Ravens last season after he fumbled in each of his first two games.
He had eight kick return touchdowns over his NCAA career at Rutgers.
Grant certainly made a quick impression on his teammates.
“We thought Janarion was a fast guy and could make some plays but every time after that first play we were all on the edge of our seats looking for it,” running back Andrew Harris said. “Our special teams are definitely exciting.”
AN OFFENSIVE ‘WIN’
Andrew Harris has a message for anyone who thinks the Bombers offence didn’t pull its weight on Thursday night — they’re wrong.
“Offensively I thought we controlled the ball really well against a really stout defence,” said Harris, who ran for 100 yards and had eight catches for 44 yards.
“We ran the ball well and were able to chew up some time clock in the third and fourth quarters. That’s tough to do against that team and we were able to do it fairly well. That’s win for us.”
Harris has been carrying the offence for a while now and accounted for 144 of the team’s 286 yards on Thursday.
SAYLES SAVES DAY
Winston Rose had a big pick to seal the win, but the more impressive interception came from halfback Marcus Sayles with six seconds left in the second quarter.
The Bombers had just taken a 20-14 lead when Grant fumbled on a punt return and the Stampeders recovered at the Bombers 22-yard line.
Calgary had a few chances to get the ball in the end zone but wound up coming away with nothing when Sayles went high in the air to pick off a pass from Nick Arbuckle that was intended for Eric Rogers in the end zone.
“We had an unfortunate turnover,” O’Shea said. “I thought we were gonna get the ball back and go drive down for points right at the end of the half.
“Now they’re in scoring position and Marcus makes that interception to take points off the board for them. In such a tight game, those change the game.
“And the actual interception itself? Phenomenal. He just seemed to hang in the air for as long as he needed to, to make that pick. An inch less or a fraction of a second less of hang time and it’s a touchdown.”
HALLETT COMES UP BIG
Grant wasn’t the only player to make a big play on special teams for the Bombers.
Rookie Canadian defensive back Nick Hallett recovered a fumble on kick coverage early in the fourth quarter, leading to a Bombers field goal in a game they wound up winning by two points.
Former Bomber Abu Conteh was trying to block Hallett when he accidentally ran into his own returner, Terry Williams, who fumbled. Hallett, who got credit for a forced fumble, quickly pounced on the ball.
“Nick forcing that fumble was pretty significant,” Bombers safety Jeff Hecht said.
“I thought our special teams, as a whole, had a pretty great game. It’s good to have a spark like that.”
Bombers defensive back Chris Humes was injured early in the game and did not return. He was replaced by newcomer Mercy Maston, who was just signed last Sunday, at halfback … Starting left guard Cody Speller was limping noticeably and as replaced by rookie Drew Desjarlais on many plays, though he did still come in on some short-yardage packages … The Bombers completed only nine passes downfield in the game, with receiver Chris Matthews making just three catches for 33 yards, Lucky Whitehead three for 33, Kenny Lawler two for 46, Drew Wolitarsky one for 13 and Nic Demski one for eight … The Bombers held Calgary to just 56 rushing yards, bringing down their league-leading average, which was at 67 yards per game heading into the contest … The Bombers, who were the least penalized team in the league heading into the game, took seven penalties for 78 yards, while the Stamps took just three for 15 yards … The Bombers will host the 1-6 B.C. Lions next Thursday at IG Field before heading on the road for two games, at Edmonton on Aug. 23 and at Saskatchewan on Sept. 1.