Game Recap | CGY 24 WPG 26
Put down the torches and pointy sticks, Bomber Nation, and cancel the revolt – the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have found their magic again.
The Bombers edged the Calgary Stampeders 26-24 in front of 25,534 at IG Field on a perfect Thursday night in south Winnipeg. The victory not only improves the Bombers to 6-2 and gives them sole possession of first place in the West Division, it puts a tourniquet on a two-game losing streak that had given voice to so many doubters.
Just as important, it gives the Bombers the early advantage in a three-game season series with the Stamps that will see the two clubs meet again in back-to-back weeks in October.
“Humungous,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols when asked of the importance of the victory. “I mean, I can’t even tell you how different 6-2 looks than 5-3.
“To beat a team that we play three times this year – we have a back-to-back to end the season with them – it could come down to where the season series is a big difference and so getting this first one makes it where you maybe don’t have to go win a home-and-home at the end of the year.
“It’s big for where we are in the standings now, but it’s even bigger for what those last couple weeks could mean.”
The impact of the result in shaping the narrative around the Bombers heading into next week and on the standings is significant, but the most compelling subplot to the night was the work of kick returner Janarion Grant, who was making his Canadian Football League debut.
The former Rutgers star, who played with the Baltimore Ravens and had a look-see from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in training camp, returned two punts for touchdowns in the first half, covering 76 and 83 yards. He became just the eighth player in CFL history to accomplish that feat, and the first-ever Bomber.
All told, Grant finished the night with 306 combined kick-return yards – 222 on seven punt returns and 84 on four kickoff returns.
“It was amazing,” began Grant. “The fans… the teammates… we come here each and every day and bond. That’s what we do as a family. I’m just blessed to be here. Really (the two touchdowns) were my teammates’. They made a hole for me and I just did the rest. I’m thankful for them to be able to block for me so I could get to the end zone.”
The Bombers had jumped out to a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter when the Stamps, working on a short week after playing Edmonton on Saturday, counter-punched behind the work of quarterback Nick Arbuckle as he rushed for two scores to give Calgary a 14-10 edge.
That’s when the Bombers recovered and found their legs again after taking some shots, as Grant ripped off his second punt-return TD and then Marcus Sayles intercepted Arbuckle in the end zone with 18 seconds left to preserve a 20-14 lead following a Grant fumble.
“That muffed ball I had, that was on me,” said Grant. “But 14 (Sayles) saved the day for me and I’m blessed for that.”
Winnipeg had a 26-17 lead with six minutes remaining, but when Arbuckle found Eric Rogers for an 11-yard TD with 2:39 left, the Stamps had life again.
But a Winston Rose interception with 98 seconds left – his league-leading sixth of the year – set up the Bombers to kill the clock, which they did behind the grinding of Andrew Harris and Chris Streveler. Harris was superb, again, rushing 19 times for 100 yards while leading all receivers with eight catches for 44 yards.
“After the last two weeks and coming back and playing a great team that’s been playing well I thought offensively, and I’ll speak on that, that we controlled the ball really well against a really (stingy) defence,” said Harris. “We ran the ball well and were able to chew up some time clock in the third and fourth (quarters) and that’s tough to do against that team.”
THE BIG STAT
7: Consecutive home games for the Bombers dating back to last year. That’s the best home stretch for the club since the 2002-03 seasons at old Canad Inns Stadium.
The Bombers lost both OL Cody Speller and DB Chris Humes in the first quarter. Drew Desjarlais replaced Speller – who stayed in the game, but only for short-yardage situations – with Maston moving into the spot held by Humes who was replacing Brandon Alexander.
The Bombers inactive player was LB DJ Lalama… Grant wasn’t the only player to make his Bomber debut Thursday. Three others – DB Mercy Maston, WR Malcolm Williams and LB Korey Jones also wore Bomber blue and gold for the first time. Maston made an immediate impact with a special-teams tackle on the opening kickoff and was pressed into duty with the injury to Humes.
306: Combined kick-return yardage for Janarion Grant.
8/1/1: The stat line for Bombers defensive back Marcus Sayles – eight tackles, one interception and one sack.
3: Turnovers forced by the Bombers – two interceptions and one fumble.
82%: Matt Nichols completion percentage, on 18 of 22 passing for 177 yards.
Thursday’s game was the first of back-to-back home dates for the Bombers, who will next welcome the B.C. Lions to IG Field on August 15th. It’s part of a five-game run against West Division rivals, with the two home dates followed by visits to Edmonton and then Regina to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Labour Day Classic, with the Riders then returning for the Banjo Bowl.