It wasn't pretty but Bombers will take 'complete team win' over Stampeders
There are, no doubt, some fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who believe their team had good fortune on its side in Thursday’s 26-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders.
The Bombers had a pedestrian night offensively, putting up only 286 yards and failing to get the ball into the end zone. On defence, they allowed Calgary’s backup quarterback, Nick Arbuckle, to move the ball efficiently at times and needed two very timely interceptions to make sure the first-place showdown didn’t end in a home-field loss.
If it were not for the heroics of newcomer Janarion Grant and his two punt return touchdowns, the Bombers would surely have been on the losing end and would be staring at three straight losses and a 5-3 record instead of their current 6-2.
But that’s the thing.
Special teams are just as much a part of the game as anything else and the Bombers absolutely got it done in that area, with Grant accounting for 12 points and place-kicker Justin Medlock putting up the other 14, including a 55-yard field goal on a 4-for-4 night.
This is how first-place teams operate. When one aspect of the game isn’t going well, another picks it up.
“That was a great team win,” defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “Offence, defence, special teams. We had great explosion plays by the special teams, the offence did a great job of staying on the field, pushing the ball, moving the sticks. As a defence, we did exactly what our offence asked us to do — go out there and get a couple of two-and-outs, a couple turnovers and just allowed them to just get on the field at the end and run the ball to end the game.”
The big turnovers came at the end of each half — halfback Marcus Sayles snuffed out a Calgary drive with an interception in the end zone with six seconds left in the second quarter and league INT leader Winston Rose essentially sealed the game with just over a minute left by picking off an Arbuckle pass that went through the hands of receiver Richie Sandini.
And, while the Bombers didn’t do much of anything in the passing game — Matt Nichols threw for just 177 yards — they did get the job done on the ground again with 120 yards. Overall, the Bombers had a wide edge in time of possession (33:41 to 26:19) and ran more offensive plays (54) than the Stamps (49).
Running back Andrew Harris led the way, as usual, with 100 yards, giving him four such games on the season, and he and backup quarterback Chris Streveler did an excellent job of moving the chains twice in the final minute to allow the Bombers to finish off the game with the offence on the field.
Those are all little pieces of a big victory against a team the Bombers rarely are able to beat — the defending Grey Cup champions, who are looking very much like contenders again this year.
“Well, we found a way to get it done, you know, two punt return touchdowns were big,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “I think a lot of these games going forward will be like this where it comes down to certain plays like that. We still made mistakes that could have prevented us from winning this type of contest, but overall, a real good football game.”
There were certainly some things for fans to be concerned about. The passing game produced fewer than 200 yards for the second straight week and the Bombers were unable to get a crucial first down — bringing out the boo birds — in the final two minutes when Calgary still had a chance to move into position for the winning field goal.
Fortunately for the home side, Rose was in the right place at the right time and he was able to steal the ball back. The narrative on this game would be very different had he not made that play.
“I give credit to my coaches,” said Rose, who leads the CFL with six interceptions this season. “They had us in the right coverage. We were playing cover 2 and I just drove on the ball, he tipped it, and it landed right in my hands.”
The defence, in general, bounced back in strong fashion after allowing Calgary to put together two long touchdown drives in the first half.
In the second half, the Bombers gave up only 120 yards, which was a huge key to the victory.
“It’s just being a resilient defence,” Jefferson said. “We know Calgary’s a good team. We knew they were gonna get a couple plays in. Going out there and getting those big takeaways, those big stops on second down to get off the field and give our offence a chance, that was key for us.”
Wins against a team like Calgary don’t come easily.
It takes a team of horses to pull the load over some significant bumps along the way.
Nichols says Harris is the greatest to ever play
We’ve known for a long time just how much Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols appreciates running back Andrew Harris.
Nichols has often said what an honour it is to play with the future Hall of Famer, but he took his praise a step further on Thursday after Harris racked up another 100 yards in a 26-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders.
“He’s the greatest to ever play,” Nichols said. “He’s unbelievable.”
There would have to be some dispute about that from the likes of Mike Pringle, George Reed and Charles Roberts, but Harris is certainly in some elite company after winning back-to-back rushing titles and leading the league again this year.
Harris has 8,404 rushing yards in his career and he’ll soon pass Dave Thelen (8,463) to move into the top 10 in league history.