July 8, 2016

Upon Further Review: WPG at HAM

Hamilton Tiger-Cats C.J. Gable (32) is surrounded by Winnipeg Blue Bombers during first half CFL football action in Hamilton, Ont., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

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Chris Randle glanced around a raucous Winnipeg Blue Bombers dressing room and raised his voice a bit louder than usual to be heard over the noise that always comes following a victory.

“You know how big this is for everybody in here?” said the veteran Bombers cornerback after Thursday’s 28-24 win in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats. “We knew our previous game wasn’t good enough. We gave up 500 yards in Calgary and in the game before that against Montreal we didn’t hold them when we were supposed to.

“This game, we wanted to come out and have some fun, fly around and support one another and trust one another. What this does, it just fuels the belief we have. We believe completely in each other, offence, defence and special teams.”


Now, there were any number of moments in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers first win of 2016 where a lesser team – say, the Bombers of last season – might have melted like a fudgesicle in the desert sun.

There was the mess-up on what would have been a 46-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter – holder Weston Dressler forgot to come on the field – that pushed the ball back five yards and, after Justin Medlock was wide right, the miss was then returned 120 yards by Brandon Banks.

There was the fumble by Quincy McDuffie on the opening kickoff of the second half that quickly turned a 22-10 Bomber advantage to a 22-17 lead.

There was Drew Willy going seven for seven on a long Bombers drive, only to fumble the ball at the Hamilton eight-yard line.

And there was the late rally by the Ticats that was snuffed out by an Adrian Hubbard sack and fumble recovery with the home side at the Bombers’ 22 and trying to steal a win.

But for every punch thrown by the Ticats, the Bombers counter-punched. And for a squad desperate for a W to keep the vultures circling overhead at bay, that resiliency was huge.

“Everybody was fired up,” said Randle, who was part of a defensive crew that forced six turnovers. “Everybody had that look in their eyes where there was no quit. We had one thing on our mind and that was winning. We kept that in our minds throughout the whole game, through the ups and downs.

“It rubs off. Honestly, it’s a belief. It’s an understanding of how to play off one another. It’s a process. You can’t discount our two losses. You have to learn from them.”

Chris Randle

Here’s another theory: the work Bombers GM Kyle Walters & Co. did in free agency to upgrade the talent was significant. But by also adding guys who became used to winning elsewhere – Andrew Harris, Weston Dressler, Keith Shologan, Medlock, Euclid Cummings, etc. – they also changed the vibe in the room. That was never more evident than in the past week as this team seemed to be galvanized even with the 0-2 start. Where it once hoped to win, it now expects to win.

“That was a big character win for us,” said Harris. “I’m so proud of my teammates and proud of the coaching staff.

“There’s definitely some experience here now. But regardless of how it happened, it happened. We’ve got guys in here who are really sticking together. After that field goal return, most teams would hang their head on that.

“But after the plays they made and converted we really stuck together. On the bench the guys were cheering and motivating and really hanging together and we stayed optimistic through the whole game.

“When you have a team like that and you get a character win like that the room gets closer and the team gets that much better.”

No one is drawing a straight line from a victory in Hamilton in July to a playoff spot in November. But even the mathematically challenged know the difference between 1-2 and 0-3.

More on the Bombers win with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call ‘Upon Further Review’:



THERE ARE ANY NUMBER OF WORDS… that fit when trying to describe Ryan Smith’s no-look TD catch in Thursday’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Ryan Smith (12) is congratulated by teammates after his touchdown during first half CFL football action against the Hamilton Tiger Cats, in Hamilton, Ont., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
win. ‘Unbelievable’ works. So does ‘incredible.’ Or ‘mind-blowing.’ That play, in which Drew Willy stuck a pass right on the arm of the Bombers receiver (who wasn’t looking) created a buzz after the game and into Friday.

The catch was featured prominently on TSN’s telecast and website, but was also picked up by ESPN, FOX Sports and tweeted to thousands by all those outlets as well as EA Sports Madden NFL, ESPN sports business analyst Darren Rovell and SB Nation, among others.

Smith was still at a loss for words in detailing the play after the game or how it even happened, but his handiwork had been viewed by so many by Friday morning he was trending on Facebook.

“That was incredible,” said Dressler. “I didn’t see it live on the field, but seeing the replay I said to him, ‘How did you do that?’ That’s football sometimes.”


MIKE O’SHEA MIGHT HAVE FALLEN on his sword for the mess-up on Medlock’s first field goal attempt, but it was Dressler who fessed up afterward.

“It was a bad play by me. That’s 100 per cent on me,” said Dressler. “I have to take all the blame on that and I’m just happy all the guys on this team picked me up on that.

“The previous play on offence, I let it get into my head. It’s always about moving on to the next play and I didn’t do that. That was a big mistake.”


ADRIAN HUBBARD MADE HIS CFL DEBUT a memorable one with his late game heroics. His sack, forced fumble, and recovery on his vicious hit on Ticat QB Jeremiah Masoli sealed the Bombers’ first win.

“I’m able to make plays. When I’m able to play football, I’m glad. I haven’t played in a long time,” Hubbard said. “It’s good to be out there just competing with my brothers. Football is everything to me.

“This was a must win. I look at it like a seven-game series in the playoffs. You don’t want to go down 0-3. You want to get one, especially if it’s at their home. It’s hard to win on the road and when you do, it’s like you’ve taken so much pride from them. To be able to strip someone else of a win on their home field is big.”


ONE OF THE SMARTER PLAYS made by a Bomber in Thursday’s win came from Macho Harris, who gobbled up a bounced kickoff by Medlock in front of the bench while Brandon Banks waited to read it. It’s exactly the kind of play a special teams guy like O’Shea would appreciate, and it’s why teams also like to sprinkle their cover and return units with been-there, done-that veterans. Harris also chipped in with seven tackles in the game, but those numbers mean little to the five-year CFL vet/first-year Bomber.

“It feels good just to finally get a ‘W’. Great team win,” said Harris. “We showed signs that we’re never going to give up, no matter what. Coach mentioned that earlier in the week: no matter what happens, we’ve got to continue to fight until there are zeros on the clock.

“That’s a major team confidence builder. That’s a great offence over there. Great offence, great defence, great team overall. Having wins like that helps this team. You can’t ask for anything better than that to get some momentum going into next week.”


HIS TOTALS MIGHT NOT POP OFF THE PAGE but there were occasions in Thursday’s victory when Andrew Harris carried the Bomber offence with some critical plays. Officially he rushed 13 times for 63 yards and pulled in five catches for 38 _ATG3052Ayards, but it’s his versatility as both a rusher and receiver that are vital to the Bombers – especially against a Ticats defence that brought heat from all over the field.

Harris also has a unique take on this market and the outside pressures on the Bombers to win, as a Winnipegger and veteran CFL’er with the B.C. Lions.

“Hopefully this helps,” said Harris. “Hopefully people will ease off a bit. It was two games that we lost before that. But, having said that, this is only one game. I know it’s cliché, but it’s a long season and there’s going to be ups and downs. This organization and the guys in this locker room have just got to stick together and keep that other stuff out of our ears.”