WINNIPEG – On Thanksgiving weekend, it wasn’t all the turkey that almost gave Bombers fans a heart attack.
After Winnipeg blew an early three touchdown lead, the defence came up with a huge stand late to seal a 37-35 win over the BC Lions, ensuring the two teams will be tied for 2nd in the standings when they meet again next week.
The Bombers jumped out to a 24-3 lead in front of a sparse crowd at Investors Group Field. After a first play interception was overturned on a challenge for pass interference, the Bombers marched down the field 9 plays, 95 yards capped by an Andrew Harris TD catch.
On their next drive the Bombers opened up the bag of tricks: Weston Dressler gained 21 yards on a fake field goal run, and Matt Nichols hauled in a touchdown pass from Rory Kohlert after Harris took the direct snap.
Then the defence got involved: a Mo Leggett interception set up a 16-yard TD scamper from Timothy Flanders, and a TJ Heath pick led to three points off the foot of Justin Medlock.
But the Lions started chipping away at the lead. The dangerous Chris Rainey took a handoff on 3rd and 1 and took it 56 yards to paydirt. On their next drive, Jonathon Jennings hit Bryan Burnham for a gain of 54, leading to a short touchdown run for Anthony Allen.
The teams then traded field goals before Travis Lulay gave the Lions their first lead of the game late in the third on a 1-yard plunge.
After the teams again exchanged field goals, Kevin Fogg set up the Bombers in great field position with a 52-yard punt return. Clarence Denmark then hauled in a 22-yard touchdown to put Winnipeg up 37-33.
With the Lions needing a touchdown to win, they got the ball with 2:02 to go on their own 28. They managed to get all the way to the Bombers 4, but on 3rd and 1 a hobbled Leggett tripped up Rainey in the backfield to send the crowd of 24,284 into a frenzy.
“Mo is one of our leaders, one of our character guys. He’ll do anything for his teammates,” defensive end Jamaal Westerman said after the game. “I know he was in pain but he knew someone needed to step up and make a play.”
There was a moment of fear on the next play when Harris fumbled the ball while trying to run out the clock, but the whistle blew before the ball came out. Weston Dressler ran around in the endzone before conceding a safety as the clock ran out.
“When I got hit, my forward progress stopped. I felt like I wasn’t moving anymore,” Harris explained. “When the bullets are flying, you just hold on for dear life. Regardless of whether the whistle blew or not, I gotta clean that up.”
Harris finished with 66 yards on 12 carries. Matt Nichols put up another steady performance: 22/32, 233 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers.
For the defence, it was a bend-but-don’t-break type of game. They allowed 427 passing yards to Jonathon Jennings but picked him off twice without allowing a passing TD. They did allow three rushing scores, but the Leggett tackle in the final minute was the difference.
“He fought off the block, threw himself into the path. That’s basically the ball game,” lauded head coach Mike O’Shea. “It’s not easy to win. These are all good opponents we’re playing. I like our room, they’re working so hard. They’re just going to battle all the time.”
The second half of this critical home-and-home goes Friday, October 14 at 9 p.m. in Vancouver.