It was the most routine of football plays, a one-yard keeper around the right side by backup QB Alex Brink.
But in this most frustrating of seasons in which even the routine has befuddled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Brink’s one-yard run with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter at Canad Inns Stadium Friday represented an achievement of near-monumental proportions.
To wit: an offensive touchdown.
Brink’s short run ended the Bombers’ offensive touchdown drought at 239 minutes, 48 seconds, a span just 12 seconds short of four complete games that dated back to late August, when Paul LaPolice was still the Bombers head coach.
And with the end of that drought, the Bombers promptly ended another, snapping a four-game losing streak with a 34-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats before a shivering announced crowd of 26,577 on a cold and windy night.
The win — also the first as a head coach for Tim Burke, the man who replaced LaPolice — improved the Bombers to 3-9, dropped the Ticats to 4-8 and kept alive whatever designs Winnipeg has on qualifying for the playoffs.
And it also put life back into a Bombers locker-room that had been an episode of The Walking Dead the last few weeks.
"I can’t describe to you how good it feels," said Burke. "I’m really happy for the players and the rest of the coaches... And I’m glad Buck’s back, because he did a great job. All those things, I’m really thankful for."
Indeed, it’s no coincidence that last night’s long-awaited win came with the return of Buck Pierce as Winnipeg’s starting QB for the first time since he injured his foot back in Week 3.
It was a vintage, workmanlike Pierce performance. He went 21-for-31 for 288 yards and a touchdown, by far the best performance by a Bombers quarterback in four games.
But Pierce gave the game ball on this night to rookie offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton, who’d been savaged for weeks by fans and the media for the offence's failure to perform. While there was still some questionable play-calling in the first half, there was also no ignoring the fact Crowton’s offence finished the night with 427 total yards.
"The players want to win for him," Pierce said. "They respect what he does. He works hard. I think we’re all pretty happy for him at this moment."
The performance of Pierce was just half of the offensive story on a night when Bombers tailback Chad Simpson had a monster breakout game, rushing for 134 yards on 19 carries — the first 100-yards-plus rushing performance by a Bombers player since Chris Garrett did it in last November’s East final in even more inclement conditions.
Almost lost on this night amid all the talk of a new-found offence was the play of the Bombers defence, who were inspired from the opening kickoff and held Hamilton QB Henry Burris to just 11 completions and 156 yards. The Ticats finished with just 213 yards total offence. Hamilton also had two turnovers, while the Bombers had none.
For the second game in a row, Bombers defensive end Alex Hall had two sacks, giving him eight for the season and the CFL sack lead, at least temporarily.
"I’m just trying to string them together and stay consistent," said Hall, who also had five tackles. "I was getting pressure before, but they just weren’t turning up as sacks. Now they are."
The two teams traded field goals for the entire first half and Winnipeg headed into the locker-room for halftime leading 9-6, just the second time all season the Bombers had a halftime lead.
The Ticats tied the game 9-9 early in the third quarter with a 16-yard field goal by Luca Congi and they had both the wind at their backs and what appeared to be some momentum. But on a night when Hamilton took 17 penalties for 135 yards, they perhaps took their worst one midway through the third quarter when an offside penalty by defensive back Ricardo Colclough kept the Bombers offence on the field, keeping alive the eight-play, 93-yard drive that culminated in Brink’s TD run.
The Bombers added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter on a seven-yard touchdown reception by Kito Poblah and a 17-yard touchdown run by backup tailback Will Ford.