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August 4, 2023

Upon Further Review | BC 14 WPG 50

1st Half - Dalton Schoen 83 - Kenny Lawler 89 - Geoff Gray 68 touchdown celebration (3)

It was late Thursday night, not long after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had finished gutting and fileting the B.C. Lions, when one of the many stars of the evening was holding court with a throng of media inside the clubhouse.

And as Kenny Lawler stood in front of his locker answering questions after his sensational performance in a 50-14 win – seven catches for 200 yards and a touchdown – the tone of the message from the veteran receiver, without being said outright, was simple:

‘I come exactly as advertised.’

“It’s just the standard,” he said with a shrug when asked about his success against the Lions, including another 200-yard effort in October of 2021. “When you consider yourself the best receiver in the league you just go every game and work, work your tail off. That’s what it is.

“It’s just the standard, man. I’m not surprised. The guys aren’t surprised – they’ve seen it this whole week of preparation. When you prepare that hard, these are the results you get.”

It’s true, Lawler does what he did against the Leos on game night every single day during Blue Bombers practice. Still, while his teammates might not be surprised, they certainly continue to be impressed.

An example: as Lawler was following up his media session, Brady Oliveira quietly asked, ‘What did Kenny finish with? 200?! Amazing, man. Just amazing.’

Let’s put that total in perspective, thanks to CFL statistician Steve Daniel…

Lawler’s performance was the 12th 200-yard receiving game by a Blue Bombers receiver in team history. That list, FYI:

Alfred Jackson – 308, July 14, 1994
Milt Stegall – 254, July 20, 2006
David Williams, 240, July 14, 1994
Milt Stegall – 234, October 10, 2005
Milt Stegall – 233, July 29, 1999
James Murphy – 229, October 16, 1988
Jim Thorpe – 227, September 19, 1970
Bob Larose – 219, October 26, 1975
Adarius Bowman – 213, October 12, 2009
Kenny Lawler – 205 – October 1, 2021
Derick Armstrong – 205, September 2, 2007
Kenny Lawler – 200 – August 3, 2023

Lawler’s numbers, for what it’s worth, could have been even higher as he was called for offensive pass interference on another long pass from Zach Collaros when he fought through a hand check to get inside position.

His impact Thursday night was instant as he pulled in a 34-yard pass just before Dalton Schoen’s 71-yard score, found the end zone on a 57-yard TD of his own and then drew a pass interference penalty of 31 yards that led to a Brady Oliveira rushing score. All of that, it’s worth noting, in the opening 30 minutes.

“It adds another weapon to this offence, having him out there,” said Schoen, who had five catches for 137 yards and two TDs. “I mean, everyone across this league knows what Kenny is capable of. We know as an offence that we have a lot of weapons and so if everyone is doing their job on any given play the defence can’t take away everything and the ball is going to find where it needs to go to the open guy.

“It feels good to be at full strength with Kenny out there.”

Winnipeg cranked out 576 yards of net offence – the most since racking up 588 in a win over Montreal in 2018 – including 447 through the air.

“It’s a statement. It’s always a team statement,” Lawler said. “It doesn’t matter what I do, what (Schoen) does, what (Nic) Demski does, what Sheed (Rasheed Bailey) does, what Brady (Oliveira) does… it’s a team effort.

“Without the guys up front, we can’t make plays. Without Zach throwing good balls, we can’t make plays. It was an offensive statement that we’re back, we’re going to be very, very dynamic and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. That’s what we want to put on tape every play and we did a good job of it tonight.”

After missing the first six games of the year while he was on the suspended list as paperwork on his work visa was completed, Lawler now has 14 receptions for 293 yards in just two games.

“I don’t know that it’s always going to look like that,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea of Lawler in his post-game media conference. “But when it doesn’t, he’ll still be running guys off, drawing extra coverage and getting other guys open. And blocking. And doing all the other stuff that he’s going to need to do as a receiver on this football team.

“So, tonight it looked like that for Kenny and what you’ve seen out of him in his time in the CFL is there are more nights that look like that than a lot of other guys.”

A deeper look at the Blue Bombers big win Thursday night in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW

THE WIN BY THE BLUE BOMBERS WAS AS COMPREHENSIVE… as the score would suggest and came in the wake of a 30-6 home beating they took from the Lions back in June. As we mentioned in our game recap story, that does set up a juicy final regular season matchup between the two teams on October 6th in Vancouver.

That’s weeks and weeks from now, but the significance of getting the result Thursday to pull even in the standings and tie the season series can’t be overstated.

“Look, of course we’re going to say we’re focusing on every single opponent every single week,” said Oliveira, who had 67 rushing yards on just nine carries and two TDs. “But every guy in this locker room knows the importance of beating teams in the West.

“They got us earlier in the season and we got them tonight. Obviously, the series is tied 1-1 and we’re going to have to go beat them whenever we play them next.

“That was huge. That was a very important game for us to go out there and to win and to really put up points like that and show that this offence is electric. This is the best offence in the CFL… got the best offensive line in the league, a veteran, stacked group. We went out there and showed them tonight. It’s definitely a good feeling.”

KUDOS TO THE COACHING STAFF… who obviously came up with some counterpunches to what happened in June to answer the Lions. Collaros threw for three TDs and 369 yards – Dru Brown connected with Schoen for another and was 2-of-2 for 78 yards – with three of those scores coming with six-man protection up front. Two of those three also included key blocks by Oliveira and Drew Wolitarsky who were helping with protection.

Collaros, as he had done all week, also went out of his way to point out the seven sacks surrendered in June were not to be exclusively hung on the O-line.

“Not to dismiss the last game, but a lot of things are always in your control,” he said. “There was some communication stuff – whether it be cadence stuff or assignment stuff. It’s not on them (the O-line), it could be on me, it could be on them, it could be on the receivers, etc.

“I thought we played a really clean game tonight. We were able to mix up the cadences, which you need to be able to do at home and we kept them off balance.”

A stat worth noting here: the Blue Bombers are now 12-1 after a bye week since 2017. The players post-game were insistent on not calling the result a ‘statement game.’ If not that, what then?

“I think we just call it doing our job,” said Schoen. “Again, I hate saying it over and over again, but for us it truly is about going 1-0 each week. It’s not necessarily about who we’re playing and it’s definitely not about what happened in the past or anything like that. It’s about watching the tape of the opponent, seeing what they do, being ready to attack it and then going out there and doing your job.”

THE DEFENCE DID ITS THING, TOO… forcing five turnovers – including two interceptions of Dane Evans by Demerio Houston and Brandon Alexander and yielding just 230 yards of net offence and two field goals. B.C.’s lone TD, for what it’s worth, came on an Oliveira fumble after a reception that was returned by Bo Lokombo 30 yards.

“It was about finishing all four quarters for us,” said Alexander. “Everybody was running to the ball on defence, everybody was blocking on offence and on special teams everybody was flying around. We were just out there playing all four quarters and respecting the game.”

The defence got a boost from linebacker Kyrie Wilson and cornerback Winston Rose, both of whom were playing their first game of the season, while Jackson Jeffcoat – who did not play in the first game versus B.C. – registered one of the two sacks on the night, with Jake Thomas getting the other.

“Kyrie and Winston… both veteran guys and we were excited to see them play,” said Alexander. “Those two guys haven’t played since last year, but they did what they did today. We’re so happy to see them on the field.”

FYI:

Coach O’Shea on using his challenge to try and over-turn a horse-collar tackle penalty called on Willie Jefferson: “Ahh… he had him by the shoulder more than anything. There wasn’t a backwards motion. There was talk of a standard adjustment requiring certain elements and I didn’t see those elements. The fact of the matter is the last time we played them I left my flag in the pocket probably five times that I could have won challenges on. I wasn’t going to do that again. It seems like an odd one to pick, but based on the standard I didn’t think it was going to meet it and it was an important play – it moved them down deep.”

Heading into the weekend the CFL, has had four crowds in excess of 30,000 this season – two of them here in Winnipeg. The first saw 30,561 in attendance against Calgary, with Thursday’s total reaching 30,874. Edmonton drew 32,233 to their opener with the Lions having the largest crowd so far this season when 33,103 were in B.C. Place for their opener.

Dru Brown now has six passing TDs in his career with four of them to Schoen (the other two to Rasheed Bailey). “I’m very close with Dru,” said Schoen. “We came out of college at the same time – he got to the CFL a year before me – but he’s someone I talk to a lot. We’re always looking at tape, we’re always texting each other with stuff we see on Twitter or clips. So, for him to get in the game and get the chance to throw the ball around a little bit, I know that means the world to him and I’m super happy for him.

“I feel like he’s thrown four or five touchdowns to me now so it’s a recurring theme. I had a feeling it was coming to me. He put a good ball on me by stepping up in the pocket and he gave me a chance.”

AND FINALLY

If you could have seen the smile on Kyrie Wilson’s face post-game… priceless. After all, the veteran linebacker had been out of action for 395 days since injuring his Achilles last July 4th in Toronto.

“Oh, man it was so much fun just being out there with the team,” said Wilson, who started at weak-side linebacker and had a tackle and another on special teams. “It was a little emotional at first. Running out the tunnel was emotional. And even before that when we were first on the field warming up it was like, ‘Dang it, man… I’m back.’

“You always have a picture like that in your head when you’re working through all this, a picture that all the work is going to pay off for you. It’s ‘we’ll get there.’ Again, that’s why getting back like this was so special.”