Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 07/13/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
MONTREAL -- It was loud, crazy loud. And so was Drew Willy.
"He was just screaming super hard," Julian Feoli-Gudino recalls, "because the fans were making lots of noise.
"But he was also really calm and we just executed the play."
"The play," of course, was an 18-yard TD pass from Willy to Feoli-Gudino in the final minute of the fourth quarter at Molson Stadium Friday night that won the Winnipeg Blue Bombers the game, 34-33 over the Montreal Alouettes.
And it was precisely because the Winnipeg QB was able to remain calm in that frenzied moment -- to keep his head while all others were losing theirs -- the Bombers are 3-0 today and off to the best regular-season start for this franchise in 11 years.
And with that, this once beleaguered club's future is suddenly looking like it might be right now embodied in the person of a 27-year-old who has demonstrated calm and composure the likes of which are seldom seen in a man making just his seventh professional start.
With Friday's win, Willy has now orchestrated dramatic fourth-quarter comeback victories in each of the last two weeks, to go along with a Week 1 evisceration of a pretty good Toronto defence.
Willy has demonstrated precisely the kind of cool confidence that can take a quarterback -- and a team -- a very long way in the CFL.
Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea -- who as a veteran CFL player and coach has been around some of the game's all-time great QBs over the years -- was asked to assess his quarterback's performance on that final 13-play, 75-yard game-winning drive.
"It was awesome -- marched down the field and put the ball where it had to be when it counted the most," O'Shea said.
So how is it that a man who had just four previous professional starts prior to joining the Bombers during the off-season has so quickly morphed into the kind of player that can carry an entire team on his back in the fourth quarter?
"Because he's confident in himself," says O'Shea.
"It's not really overt with him -- he's just a quietly confident professional football player and the guys rally around him."
While Willy's performance Friday was the statistically weakest of his three starts -- 24-38, 256 yards, one TD -- it was the difficult circumstances in which he authored those numbers that made it easily his most impressive performance in Blue and Gold.
Under siege all night by a ferocious Montreal pass rush -- he was sacked four times, but that didn't begin to tell the story of a man who ran for his life all night -- Willy did just enough to keep his team in the game and give himself a chance to win it.
He made no major mistakes, threw no interceptions and basically bought his team just enough time to let an exceptionally opportunistic Bombers defence make the big plays in the second half.
A 70-yard fumble return by linebacker Desia Dunn and a 28-yard interception return by cornerback Chris Randle accounted for almost half the Bombers offence and kept Winnipeg within striking distance.
And then Willy simply took over on the final drive, willing his team to the end zone on a drive that saw the Bombers convert on third down twice, including on the game-winning touchdown.
"That last drive -- yeah, that was pretty exciting," Willy said after the game. "I've been in some crazy games before, but to make it on third down and in a tough place to play like this -- it was fun to be a part of and I'm happy to be in that locker-room with those guys for sure."
Willy credited his defence with setting the stage for the late heroics.
"We had them on the field a lot -- a lot of two-and-out and not being productive with the ball the way we wanted to be. I just wanted to help them out and we were able to get some points there. Just to get a win in Montreal, that's big time."
And it also the kind of win -- come from behind, in a hostile environment, in very adverse circumstances -- upon which entire seasons are sometimes built.
"It just shows the resiliency of the guys," said O'Shea. "We're not going to quit and it looks like we're all really starting to believe in it. It's a good thing."
Willy put it this way.
"Each game has had its own little story," said Willy. "We have a lot of guys that have a lot of faith and confidence and that's what we're going to need the entire year."
A lot of that faith and confidence is now vested in Willy. If being a winning quarterback is at least as much about leading as it is throwing the ball, there's little question whose team this now is.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @PaulWiecek
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2014 B3
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