MONTREAL — All week long, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke maintained the keys to his team winning the rematch with the Montreal Alouettes here Thursday night was to get a quicker start and to stop turning the ball over so much.
Shows what Burke knows.
The Bombers did precisely the opposite of what their coach wanted here at Stade Percival Molson Thursday night — turning the ball over three times in the first quarter alone, including twice on the opening two series — and yet still escaped with a bizarre 19-11 victory thanks to a performance by the Bombers defence that was one for the ages.
The hard-fought victory — which was played out on a brutally hot and humid night — improved the Bombers season record to 1-1, dropped Montreal’s to 1-1 and resurrected memories of a 2011 Bombers squad that was carrried all the way to that season’s Grey Cup game by a dominating defence.
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In a game in which Bombers QB Buck Pierce was sacked four times in the first half — and five times overall — Pierce did himself and his club a huge favour when he made the Als pay for a late hit in the first quarter by Ejiro Kuale.
Pierce not only got up from the Kuale hit, the penalty helped to keep alive an epic Bombers touchdown drive that in the end covered 105 yards over 10 plays and ate almost five minutes off the clock.
If teams are going to continue to hit Pierce after the whistle — and Montreal’s behaviour over the first two weeks suggests they will — the Bombers best answer is to make them pay on the scoreboard.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to pound on their guy.
A week after the Bombers raised eyebrows by sacking the normally untouchable Anthony Calvillo four times, Winnipeg made that effort look like a mere appetizer Thursday night by sacking Calvillo seven more times.
The weirdest thing on a weird night?
The Bombers turned the ball over five times Thursday night — one interception and four fumbles — and were minus-3 in the takeaway/giveaway department. And they won.
If that seems almost impossible, that’s because it usually is. But on an epically hot and humid night, none of the regular rules seemed to apply at Stade Molson last night.
A brutal Bombers start.
After harping on his team all week about getting a faster start and not turning over the ball so much, Tim Burke’s troops rewarded him with a Cory Watson fumble on the game’s opening series and a Buck Pierce inteception on the next series.
Throw in a Jovon Johnson fumble on a first-quarter punt return and it was only thanks to a dominating performance by the Bombers defence that Winnipeg trailed only 3-0 after the first quarter.
A brutal Alouettes start.
Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo was invisible in the first half, going 6-12 for a paltry 47 yards.
And the Als running game — which was expected to be a major factor in a game that marked the return of tailback Brandon Whittaker to the Montreal lineup — was no better, mustering just 24 yards along the ground in the first half.
Add it all up and the Als had just 65 net yards and three first downs in the first half — or what Calvillo typically makes happen on one drive.
And it got worse — by the end of the third quarter, the Als offence had actually gone backwards and was only registering 60 yards in total offence on cfl.ca.
The one that almost got away — again.
The Als scored a late touchdown in the 4th quarter and then almost recovered a Jovon Johnson fumble deep in the Bombers end on the ensuing kickoff.
So now what?
The Bombers will take their 1-1 record back out on the road to Guelph, where they will face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1) next Saturday.