August 5, 2016

Upon Further Review: HAM vs WPG

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They spent two and a half hours waiting desperately to get out of their locker room Wednesday night and then – after thoroughly throttling the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – didn’t seem to want to ever leave.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were an interesting study both before and after Wednesday/Thursday’s 37-11 victory over the TiCats in a game that didn’t kick off until 10:08 p.m. because of a lightning storm that set up shop in and around Investors Group Field.

TSN cameras caught both clubs killing time in their dressing room during the delays – the Tabbies playing cards, the Bombers dancing and laughing like it was last call at the club.

And by the time the media entered the room for post-game interviews after 1 a.m. the house was still rockin’.

Bruce Johnson Moe Leggett

“You stretch a little bit, you relax, you do whatever you can to stay loose,” said Bombers running back Andrew Harris. “There were a couple of times they came in and said, ‘We’ve got 10 minutes’ and you start getting hyped again and then again we’d be told to go back in.

“But the room was good the whole time. We stayed loose. We weren’t uptight. We weren’t mad about it.”

“And, ultimately, when we got out there we were like caged animals after being locked up in here.”

Andrew Harris

That’s a good way to describe what unfolded in the first half against Hamilton, as the Bombers built a 34-0 lead at the intermission that was the picture of absolute dominance.

They scored on offence and defence, had a blocked punt on special teams and diffused the CFL’s deadliest return man in Brandon Banks.

“This one here, this one is special,” said Bombers defensive tackle Euclid Cummings afterward. “I mean you think of what we’ve been going through, how we’ve been correcting things and holding each other accountable… it’s special.

“Here’s what I’m thinking now, though: that fourth quarter wasn’t good enough. It was terrible. I guarantee you that when we look at the film we’re going to see mistakes that I made, that the linebackers made, the whole team. All that has to be fine-tuned if we want to be a playoff team.

“The ceiling is up here with this team. Everyone in here wants more.”

Euclid Cummings

This is a result that speaks not only of the energy Matt Nichols has brought to the offence, but of this team’s talent depth after being ravaged by injuries to both the secondary and receiving corps over the last couple of weeks.

It’s amazing how back-to-back wins – and finally one at home – has also completely changed the narrative with this team. Each result is a week-to-week referendum with this current crew, taxed with trying to end a four-year playoff drought and saddled with a quarter-century championship drought albatross.

But where this team once looked so vulnerable, now it is fuelled with resolve. And that can be a powerful force.

“You want to try and send a message every week,” said Nichols. “You want to be seen as a tough team and that’s the kind of mentality we have right now. We want to go out and be physical for four quarters. We went out there and did it again this week. We’ll enjoy it for a week and then get right back on it.”

Travis Bond Padric Scott

More on the win over Hamilton – the first at home since last September’s Banjo Bowl – with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call ‘Upon Further Review’:

THERE WERE A LOT OF COMPELLING STORYLINES… in the Bomber win over Hamilton but, arguably, none of them as juicy as the return of Clarence Denmark.

Cast adrift in the spring after the Bombers splurged in free agency to add Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, and cut in Saskatchewan after the Roughriders training camp, Denmark returned last week after the club put in an emergency call when their receiving corps was ravaged by injury.

Clarence DenmarkDenmark was cheered loudly by the faithful in the warm-up when the starting lineup was introduced, and then heard what was left of the crowd at full throat when he pulled in a pass from Nichols early in the first quarter to give the Bombers a 14-zip lead.

By the end of the night, a man who had one full practice with his old team – but also a brand-new playbook – had pulled in seven catches for 69 yards and the score.

Asked afterwards if he could have scripted this any better, Denmark grinned.

“Nah, man. With this win and how this whole team played, it’s just awesome. Just to be able to be a part of it is just awesome. It’s unreal. I’m just taking it all in. Just to be out there on the field again in front of these fans and with these teammates is awesome.

“That’s the loudest I’ve heard them, when they called my name. It felt great. Everybody welcomed me back in and that’s such a good feeling.”

YOU GET THE FEELING A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE… were pulling for Denmark, too. The decision to release him was based largely on finances, but there was little hesitation in bringing him back because the club knew what they were getting; a tremendously dedicated athlete who would swallow this second opportunity whole.

“I’m so happy for him,” said O’Shea afterwards. “It’s a crappy business. So for him to come out and have the game he did… he scored, he took some of those screen passes, found lanes and drove up the field grinding for yards. He took a couple of hits and just kept on going.

“I loved seeing him when he was smiling. He was happy, he was excited and I’m very happy for him.”

EXCUSE THE WELL-WORN PUN, BUT… Thomas Mayo continues to cut the mustard for the Bombers when he is in the offence.

Thomas MayoPressed into duty again for the club due to injuries – he’s bounced to and from the practice roster – Mayo finished the night with seven catches for 84 yards and his first career CFL touchdown.

“At the start of the week Coach O’Shea came up to me and said I needed to step up,” said Mayo. “(The TD) felt great. I wish I had kept my ball, but I threw it into the stadium. It’s definitely a confidence booster.

“Whatever coach needs me to do or asks me to do, I’m going to do it. I wish I could have had 200 yards, but 84 is pretty cool.

“We’ve all got to believe in each other. At the beginning of the season there were a lot of new guys around, including me. A lot of guys were getting injured but now we’re believing how good we are. Now it’s like everything is gelling together and we believe.”

THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF COMMENTARY LATELY… about the quality of the Bombers’ depth, given the men who have stepped up in the secondary and receiving corps with all the injuries to regulars.

It’s going to make for some interesting decisions when they start to get healthy again – “a good problem” is how O’Shea described it. One of those newcomers who has blossomed is cornerback C.J. Roberts who, with four starts under his belt now, has the third most experience in the secondary in terms of CFL starts after Bruce Johnson (38), Kevin Fogg (7), Terrence Frederick and Taylor Loffler (2).

Roberts stepped in front of a Masoli pass and returned it 19 yards to open the scoring Wednesday/Thursday and – save for being beaten by Edmonton’s Derel Walker a couple of weeks ago – has been very solid.

“When I stepped in front for that pass, man, it feels like the gate is opening for you,” said Roberts. “But you’ve got to make sure you catch it first. After that… what a feeling.

“We’ve got a lot of rookies in our secondary, but we also have a lot of faith, too. It’s just the way this game goes sometimes.”