In a season in which almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, the 2012 Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally — mercifully — had a couple breaks actually go their way at Canad Inns Stadium Thursday night.
And the result is there are no longer any winless teams remaining in the CFL.
Playing in their long-awaited home opener and in a game dedicated to late alumni coaches Richard Harris and Cal Murphy, the Bombers improved to 1-4 with a gritty, come-from-behind 23-22 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos before an announced sellout crowd of 29,533.
The Bombers got a solid performance from their defence, a poised showing from starting quarterback Alex Brink and a late fourth-quarter fumble by Edmonton quarterback Steven Jyles to author a win they desperately needed.
"We battled through a ton of adversity," said Bombers quarterback Alex Brink, who threw two interceptions in the first half — both as he was hit while throwing — but managed the game well, particularly in the second half, and gave the faithful reason to believe their might be life still without injured starter Buck Pierce.
It was Brink’s first win as a Bombers starter and came almost exactly a year after he came off the bench in the days immediately following Harris’s sudden death to author a comeback victory over the BC Lions.
"It means a lot to me," Brink said of the win, "on a lot of levels."
Just as importantly, the manner of the victory — a combined effort of big plays on offence, defence and special teams — gives life to a club that will need more wins just like it over the next month after putting themselves in an early-season hole.
"This is huge for the players — and for everybody — to get a win," said Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice. "We didn’t play great tonight, we made some mistakes. But we can play with anyone in the league. You’ve got to believe it, you’ve got to do it and we’ll work together to get better this week."
The Bombers play their next three games at home, taking on the Montreal Alouettes next on Aug. 3.
Down 21-11 late in the third quarter, the Bombers got a 4-yard touchdown run from running back Chad Simpson, a conceded safety by Edmonton and then a 27-yard Justin Palardy field goal with six minutes remaining to author the victory.
The win came on a night the defence did just enough to keep the Bombers close — and then got a bit lucky in the end. While they certainly weren’t flawless — broken coverage handed Edmonton easy touchdown passes of 25-yards to Cary Koch in the second quarter and 47-yards to Fred Stamps in the third quarter — the defence still held Edmonton to just 153 yards net offence in the first half and 333 yards overall.
And when they needed a big play most, they got it from non-import defensive lineman Jake Thomas , who stripped the ball from Jyles with under a minute remaining in the game — just as the Eskimos were inside the Bombers 30-yard line and poised to kick a game-winning field goal.
The Winnipeg special teams also provided a key turning point earlier in the game when — with the Bombers down 10 late in the third quarter and the game slipping away — special teamer Jeremy McGee made lemonade out of a lemon, recovering a partially blocked Mike Renaud punt and then rambling down to the Edmonton 24-yard line, setting up the Simpson TD.
Almost lost in the late game heroics was also a huge 40-yard TD catch by leading CFL receiver Chris Matthews on the final play of the first half. With the Bombers down 14-4 at that point, Brink threw up a hail mary pass for Matthews in the end zone as time ran out and the 6-5 receiver shook off pass interference from Eskimos defensive back Ronnie Prude to wrestle away a touchdown catch that narrowed the gap to just 14-11 heading into the locker room.
FIELD NOTES — The announced sellout was the eighth consecutive regular season sellout for the Bombers going back to last season, tying a 59-year-old franchise record...Home teams this season are now a combined 15-2...The Bombers, amazingly, reported no significant injuries last night.