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June 16, 2019

Game Recap | WPG 33, BC 23

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Drew Wolitarsky (82) celebrates his touchdown against the B.C. Lions with teammates Nic Demski (10) and Andrew Harris (33) during the second half CFL football action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday June 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms

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VANCOUVER – There were the expected gaffes, miscues and forgotten lines that come with any act on opening night.

Yet, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers also showcased enough in their 2019 season debut to have the rest of Canadian Football League take notice on a spectacular Saturday night in Vancouver, knocking off the B.C. Lions 33-23 in front of 18,058 at B.C. Place.

“Obviously there were some mistakes here and there on all sides of the ball, but overall we kept fighting,” said quarterback Matt Nichols. “We went down at halftime (17-14) and came out in the second half and right away the defence made a play and the offence finished it off.

“We played some good complimentary football. All sides picked each other up. We allowed a kickoff-return touchdown and went right back out and answered with another score.

“That’s what this game’s all about, that’s what this team is all about – having each other’s backs and we did that tonight in a historically tough place to win. To come in and beat a good football team, Week 1 is the start we wanted to get off to.”

As is the case with any win, there are a whole pile of different finger prints on this result for the Bombers, as the club got key contributions from some familiar faces – and some new ones – to open the campaign 1-0.

The usual suspects who stepped up in the ‘W’:

  • Nichols threw for three touchdowns three for three touchdowns – two to Drew Wolitarsky, a third to Darvin Adams – as the Bombers went 4-for-4 in the red zone, also including a score on a Chris Streveler QB sneak.
  • Andrew Harris rumbled for 148 yards on 16 carries – that’s 9.3 yards per carry for those of you without a calculator handy – and also pulled in five passes for 27 yards.
  • Drake Nevis had the Bombers only sack; Adam Bighill had three tackles including a tackle for a loss and Willie Jefferson had two tackles and a tackle for a loss in his Bombers debut.

 

The new contributors:

  • The Bombers reshaped offensive line, again featuring Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick at tackle but featuring Michael Couture at centre, Cody Speller at left guard and Geoff Gray at right guard, was able to control the line of scrimmage as the offence cranked out a balanced 348 yards net offence.
  • New starting safety Jeff Hecht had two interceptions.
  • And Kerfalla Exumé, the club’s eighth-round pick this year, finished with a whopping five tackles on special teams.

 

FYI Hecht, who replaced all-star Taylor Loffler, doubled his career interception total in one night’s work.

“It felt awesome. We won. I played great,” said Hecht. “I had one big mistake and one little mistake, so, not a clean game. I took a bad penalty on my own interception, which is not great, but it was the best game of my pro career, that’s for sure.”

The Bombers had some issues on special teams, being burned on a 108-yard kickoff return TD by Brandon Rutley in the second quarter, but also delivered a critical play when the Lions took their only lead of the game 23-21 on a Mike Reilly to Lemar Durant TD.

Marcus Sayles blocked the ensuing convert attempt, Brandon Alexander scooped up the ball and then lateraled it to Chandler Fenner who returned it 80 yards to tie the game at 23-23.

The Bombers then out-scored the Lions 10-zip to the finish line to seal the deal.

“It’s a win,” began Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “I mean, this isn’t easy here. The games we’ve played against them here in the recent past have been tight games. This game was an odd one. We gave up a kickoff-return touchdown right after we score and then we blocked a convert and score off that in a two-point swing.

“This game had everything. As a head coach we’ll scoot out of here with two points, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to clean it all up.”

THE BIG STAT

4-5: The Bombers were 4 of 5 in the red zone, although their last visit ended with a pair of Chris Streveler kneel-downs inside the Lions 20-yard line to seal the victory. Winnipeg got red-zone scores on a five-yard Nichols to Darvin Adams TD, and on Nichols to Wolitarsky TDs of 15 and seven yards and a Streveler one-yard QB sneak.

FYI

The Bombers inactive player was OL Jamar McGloster … Winnipeg’s lineup featured nine players making their CFL debut in OL Drew Desjarlais, RB Brady Oliveira, DBs Nick Hallett and Kerfalla Exumé – all 2019 draft picks – as well as SBs Lucky Whitehead and Kenny Lawler, QB Sean McGuire, DT Steven Richardson and LB Thiadric Hansen… Kyrie Wilson had to be carted from the field in the fourth quarter after a violent collision at the line of scrimmage. He was replaced by Jessie Briggs in the Bombers defence… Mike O’Shea challenged a pass completion with five minutes in the fourth quarter and the move was successful, as the pass was ruled incomplete.

NOTABLE

Matt Nichols threw for three TDs Saturday night, and in the process, moved past Don Jones into eighth spot on the Bombers all-time list with 77, behind Dieter Brock (177), Khari Jones (139), Ken Ploen (119), Jack Jacobs (104), Kevin Glenn (103) and Tom Clements (102) and Matt Dunigan (84).

NUMBERS GAME

2: Interceptions by new starting safety Jeff Hecht. He came into the game with two career interceptions in 114 games played.
108:
Brandon Rutley’s 108-yard kickoff return in the second quarter was the second-longest in B.C. history. The record is owned by Sammy Green, who has 113-yard return in 1983.