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October 15, 2016

Game Recap: WPG 35, BC 32

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Taylor Loffler (16) celebrates his interception during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

VANCOUVER – Mike O’Shea stepped in front of a row of television cameras and reporters, flashed an ear-to-ear grin, and then summed up the shock-and-awe state of mind many were left with late Friday night:

“Don’t ask me what happened,” began the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach, “because it’s all a blur.”

Once again – in what was the latest in a series of signature victories for this ever-evolving football team – the Bombers rallied from down 10 points with just over six minutes remaining to knock off the B.C. Lions 35-32 in their own back yard and, in the process, are now in sole possession of second place of the Canadian Football League’s West Division.

And who would have thought that way back in July when this squad stumbled to a 1-4 start?


 

The Bombers, now 10-6, are two points up on the 9-6 Lions heading into their bye week before completing the regular season with a home-and-home series with the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

“That was definitely one of the crazier games I’ve ever played in,” began Bombers QB Matt Nichols, still shaking his head in disbelief afterward. “It was a tough one, both teams had to fight the entire game.

“Luckily our guys made the big plays at the end to make the difference.”

Down 32-22 with 6:51 remaining, the Bombers narrowed the gap to within a touchdown on the sixth of Justin Medlock’s seven field goals with 3:10 left, and then made a series of massive plays in the final three minutes to seal the deal.

First, Kevin Fogg intercepted Lions QB Jonathon Jennings on the first play after the Medlock field goal, returning it to the B.C. 10-yard line. That set up a Nichols-to-Clarence Denmark TD that evened the game at 32-32.

And then the Bombers brought the hammer down as Chris Rainey fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, with the mistake being scooped up by Jesse Briggs at the Lions’ 49-yard line.

Winnipeg then worked the clock as Andrew Harris rushed 19 yards on four carries and Nichols scrambled for 13 on a perfectly timed QB draw to set up Medlock’s game winner – a 24-yarder with 14 seconds left.

The Lions did manage to make things interesting as Rainey returned the following kickoff 43 yards to allow Richie Leone to attempt a 62-yard long shot field goal, but the attempt fell well short.

“It feels great,” said Harris, who was simply spectacular in rushing 12 times for 73 yards and leading the Bombers with eight receptions for 80 more yards. “We control our own destiny. Our momentum is really high right now, we’re flowing nice and we’re making plays in those tough, sticky games and grinding it out.

“The last two are crucial, but if we win out we get a home playoff game and that’s what we want.”

Andrew Harris

As up-and-down as this contest was, it did follow a familiar formula for the Bombers. Winnipeg forced six turnovers – four interceptions, two fumbles – and finished +3 in the takeaway department in what was a critical factor in the game.

Rookie safety Taylor Loffler was dominant, picking off two passes, forcing one fumble and recovering another, while Fogg and T.J. Heath also intercepted passes.

And while the defence was hit for 430 yards against and guilty of some ill-timed penalties, they stepped up when they needed stops.

“A very emotional game,” said Fogg, who admittedly struggled early. “We knew what we needed to do and I’m just glad we dug down deep offensively, defensively and special teams.

“I needed it (the interception) a lot. It was a frustrating game, but playing DB, you’re going to have those games. It’s how you finish. My guys, my DBs, were all behind me trying to keep me encouraged and I appreciate them so much. That’s probably my first frustrating game, but at the same time it was a huge game and I’m just glad we won.”

The Bombers led 12-11 at the intermission, but would have headed to the dressing room cursing some squandered opportunities. The club’s second offensive touch – a screen pass to Harris that went 72 yards for a TD – was wiped out by an offside call on Weston Dressler.

BC Lions slotback Emmanuel Arceneaux (84) gets hit by Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Kevin Fogg (23) during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

Winnipeg also had a decided 4-1 advantage in the turnover department in the opening half with Loffler’s two picks and forced fumble, but couldn’t convert them to touchdowns as Medlock added to his club record field goal total by hitting from 32, 30, 40 and 35 yards.

As well, Nichols had Ryan Smith breaking open on what would have been a 33-yard touchdown, but overthrew his receiver while Rory Kohlert had a pass glance off his hands at the B.C. 39-yard line for an interception by Mike Edem.

Countering that, however, was the play of the Bomber defence – minus both Ian Wild and Maurice Leggett – and their kick-cover units. Where Winnipeg was lit up by Bryan Burnham, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Rainey in last week’s 37-35 win, their effectiveness in Vancouver was limited: Burnham had four catches for 48 yards, Arceneaux was held to two catches for 16 while the foot soldiers on special teams like Shayne Gauthier, James Tuck, Sam Hurl, Chad Rempel, Christophe Normand and Briggs all limited Rainey’s damage in the kick-return department.

But it was the late rally that had the Bomber clubhouse rocking afterward.

“We’re a unit, we’re a family,” said Harris. “Early on (in the season) guys were looking at other players or getting down too early. When someone’s down we pick each other up, whether it’s through words, through emotion or just your play. These are crucial times, crucial games, but we find a way to pick each other up.

“Even when our offence wasn’t great at certain points, our defence was great. They drove down and scored and we came back and answered that, too. When we needed a big play on special teams, we got that, too.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Justin Medlock (9) looks up after his winning field goal during the second half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, October 14, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

THE BIG STAT

+3: The Bombers forced six turnovers and committed three of their own to finish +3 in the takeaway-giveaway department. That pushes their season total to +30 – ahead of the team record +27 set in 1987.

THE COACH SAYS:

“The way our sideline is, they feel pretty good and they managed to manufacture a way. Forcing some turnovers at opportune times, making the most of them, using the clock well…

“We’re excited about the win and it makes it easier to go through the bye week. I still think we didn’t play our best football. There are some things we can clean up. But winning is not easy, winning in B.C. Place is not easy. Our guys battled, and battled and battled and overcame some of the obstacles they put in front of themselves.” – Mike O’Shea.

FYI

The CFL dished out its weekly supplemental discipline on Friday with Bomber special teams demon James Tuck nailed for a hit to the head of the Lions Chris Rainey in last week’s win in Winnipeg… The Bombers finished the game without right guard Sukh Chungh, as he left the game in the first half with an undisclosed lower body injury. Rookie Michael Couture stepped in to finish the game in Chungh’s place.

NUMBERS GAME

55: Justin Medlock was good on all seven of his field-goal attempts, pushing his season total to 55. The club record was 47, set and matched by Troy Westwood.

59: The CFL record for most field goals in a season, set by Saskatchewan’s Dave Ridgway in 1990.

9-70: Winnipeg’s penalty totals, including five infractions for 45 yards on defence.

153: Offensive production for Andrew Harris, who rushed 12 times for 73 yards and led all players with eight catches for 80 yards.

8: Touchdowns for Clarence Denmark this season. He added another in the win over the Lions, boosting his career-best total.

9: Tackle total for Tony Burnett, leading all players.