VANCOUVER — The odds were stacked high against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at BC Place Friday night — and not just because the B.C. Lions were eight-point favorites.
For starters, the Bombers hadn’t won here — or anywhere west of the Manitoba border — in three years. Then there was the fact the Lions have been almost unbeatable at BC Place, losing just three regular-season games since renovations were completed in the fall of 2011.
And finally, there was the fact the Lions were coming off the best performance by their pass defence in 40 years in a 41-5 win over Montreal last week, while the Bombers were still licking their wounds from a 26-3 shellacking at home to the Edmonton Eskimos.
But in a season where the Bombers have been full of surprises, they saved perhaps their biggest surprise yet for last night, overcoming the spread, the building and the recent history to stun the Lions 23-6 and spoil the party on what was a night the Lions had devoted to honour all-time receiving-yards leader Geroy Simon before a crowd of 25,321.
The Bombers defence was dominating, chasing Lions starter Kevin Glenn from the game by the third quarter. And the offence was opportunistic, taking what little the Lions defence was willing to offer and consistently putting points on the board on a night when they were at a premium.
But this night belonged to Bombers placekicker Lirim Hajrullahu, who was a perfect 5-5 on field goals, including a career-long 51-yarder and another from 49 yards out.
Welcome home, Nick
Bombers slotback Nick Moore looked right at home last night in a stadium in which he spent the last three seasons playing for the Lions before signing as a free agent with the Bombers in the off-season.
Moore was the best Bombers receiver all night long and had by far his best game in Blue and Gold, finishing the night with 7 catches for 99 yards.
What about Drew?
The Lions have been the toughest team to pass against in the CFL this season and yielded just 62 passing yards to the Montreal Alouettes last week.
Against that backdrop, Drew Willy’s final numbers — 18-26, 250 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT — were nothing short of spectacular. The Bombers QB moved the ball consistently, didn’t make any major mistakes (a late interception came with the game already out of reach) and he kept his team in the game until the Lions defence finally broke in the third quarter when Willy found slotback Clarence Denmark open for a 37-yard catch-and-run that represented the game’s only touchdown.
What’s more — and at least as important — is Willy actually had time to throw last night after spending the last couple weeks running for his life on virtually every play. While the Bombers pass protection still wasn’t perfect — they gave up two sacks — it was a vast improvement on what Willy had been contending with of late.
Paging Andrew Harris?
The Lions tailback had been dominating in Lions wins the past two weeks — taking down back-to-back Top Canadian honours — but he was almost invisible last night.
A stifling Bombers defence held Harris — the CFL’s leading rusher and the Lions leading receiver — to just 38 yards on the ground and 3 catches for 23 yards.
The Bombers improved to 4-1 last night and will have a short week to prepare for their next game, which will take place Thursday in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats (0-3).
Winnipeg is 3-0 this season against East Division opponents, having already beaten Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
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