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October 14, 2017

Game Recap | BC 20, WPG 26

They punched, counter-punched and had their ticket to the postseason punched.

And unfortunately for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, all that good was potentially offset by another proverbial punch straight to the heart of their locker room.

First, the good news: the Bombers qualified for the Grey Cup playoffs Saturday afternoon with a gritty 26-20 victory over the B.C. Lions in front of 26,434 at Investors Group Field in a game that was dominated by the home side’s defence and special teams.

And the bad news: there will be no official update until the team returns to the practice field next week, but the win did come at a cost with wide receiver Darvin Adams and linebacker Maurice Leggett – both all-star candidates – potentially lost for long stretches after suffering what appeared to be serious injuries.

Adams was injured in the first half and finished the game in civvies and with his arm in a sling; Leggett had to be helped off the field after suffering an injury in the ankle area following his recovery of a late on-side kick attempt.

Defensive back Brian Walker, meanwhile, also didn’t finish the game with an upper-body injury.

“I don’t really have any information as to how long or what the extent of anything is. I’ll get that shortly, I’m sure,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “I’ve always believed in our depth. We’ve won a bunch of games with guys jumping in and doing good things out there on the field.

“Once again, I believe that our guys are able to do that because they’re coached well, the character of the guys themselves, they pay attention and accept their roles when they’re backing somebody up. But they believe they’re starters and when they go in, I believe they really feel they want to do something for the guy they might be stepping in for.”

The Bombers had lost just 62 man-games to injuries heading into Saturday’s tilt – the league average is 193 – but in the last few weeks have now seen defensive end Jamaal Westerman, slotback Weston Dressler, running back/slotback Timothy Flanders and now potentially Leggett, Adams and Walker.

“I don’t really know the extent of it, but it’s tough to see those guys go down like that,” said Bombers defensive back T.J. Heath. “Hopefully they’re OK and we’ll have them back and ready for the playoffs.”

Big picture, the playoff berth was the positive to come out of the game – with the win the Bombers improved to 11-4 and closer to a home playoff date, and have now qualified for the postseason in consecutive years, a first in these parts since 2006-08.

And while the offence struggled mightily – managing just a paltry 214 yards – the defence and special teams were spectacular. The Lions did get two late scores to make the last few minutes more interesting than they needed to be, but the Bombers got an interception for a TD from Heath and a punt-return score from Kevin Fogg, who also chipped in with a pick.

“I’m thankful our defence and special teams played so great tonight, but it’s really hard for me to feel great about this one because I felt like as an offence, we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain,” said quarterback Matt Nichols, who completed 23 of 30 passes, but for only 172 yards. “I can’t wait to look at the film and get better.”

“Our defence bailed us out today,” added Andrew Harris. “They were lights out. That’s why football is a team game and it’s important for all three phases to contribute and they saved our butts… we weren’t great on offence and they showed up for us.

“We made way too many mistakes offensively and we need to clean that up. You’ve got to be happy with the win, but offensively, we didn’t play our game today. On the flip side, I’m proud of our defence and special teams for making plays and getting the win for us.”

The Bombers took only six penalties for 70 yards, but four of the six were on offence – an intentional grounding, an offside infraction, a holding penalty, and a roughness penalty in which Harris punched Lions defensive tackle Mic’hael Brooks after the whistle.

“I’ve got to be smart in that situation,” said Harris. “Across the board, we’ve got to be better.

“It was just frustrations mounting up. It was just yipping and yipping and yipping. Cooler heads have got to prevail in that situation.”

There was some elation in the Bombers locker room after the victory, but the injuries and the offensive struggles did also leave it more subdued than usual after a ‘W’.

Asked about qualifying for the playoffs for the second straight season afterward, O’Shea said:

“This film session tomorrow probably won’t be very pretty. We don’t have time for that right now. It’s exciting for the guys… but we’re going to stick to the way we’ve been doing things. They’ll have fun tonight, they’ll celebrate with their teammates and then it’s back to work tomorrow.”


THE BIG STAT

+2: The Bombers won the turnover battle two-zip, turning those two Lions mistakes into 10 points – a pick-six by T.J. Heath and a field goal off a Kevin Fogg interception.

TRACKING HARRIS 1K-1K

Bombers running back Andrew Harris is attempting to become the first player in CFL history to finish a season with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. He finished the night with 52 along the ground and 33 through the air, boosting his season totals to 871 yards rushing and 816 receiving. He would need to average 43 yards rushing and 61.3 receiving in the final three games to make history.

MILESTONE WATCH

Harris finished with six receptions on the afternoon and has his sights on the CFL record for a running back of 102, set by Saskatchewan’s Craig Ellis in 1985. Harris is now at 94 catches, a new career high and a Bombers record for receptions by a running back.

NUMBERS GAME

6-2: The Bombers home record after Saturday’s win. The six home wins is the most by the Bombers since the 2007 squad went 7-2 at old Canad Inns Stadium.

3.8: Average first down gain for the Bombers on the afternoon.

4.0: Average second down gain for the Bombers on the afternoon.

28: Consecutive starts at QB for Matt Nichols, the longest active streak in the CFL and the longest by a Bomber pivot since Kevin Glenn started 30 in a row through 2006-08

3: Kevin Fogg’s punt return score in the first quarter was the third kick-return score by the Bombers this season, second only to Calgary, which has five.