It was late Friday night amid the stalls of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker-room at Investors Group Field when the truth — as it always does — finally came out.
"This was a huge win — we really, really needed this win," Bombers defensive lineman Bryant Turner confessed following his club’s 26-14 victory over the Montreal Alouettes.
"That was a very big game for us." Indeed, given the backdrop of a two-game losing streak coming into Friday night and a looming home-and-home series with the surging Saskatchewan Roughriders, you could easily argue the game against the Als was perhaps the most pivotal moment in the Bombers' season thus far.
But it’s just that until the victory was sealed, there was no getting the Bombers players or coaches to admit that their date with the Als was anything more than one more game on an 18-game regular season.
It was all nonsense of course and the Bombers finally admitted they had just dodged a bullet with a gritty second-half comeback against the Als.
"Yeah, we really needed that — there’s no question," said Bombers offensive lineman Glenn January. "You never want to head out on to the road riding a three-game losing streak — and especially not into Regina. That would not have been good." Indeed, given the Bombers haven’t won in Regina on Labour Day weekend since 2004, attempting to do so next weekend after having been beaten three weeks in a row would have had all the makings of a recipe for almost certain failure.
All of which made what transpired at IGF in the second half so absolutely critical to the revamped Bombers’ immediate future.
A blocked punt for a TD early in the third quarter got the comeback going and running back Nic Grigsby closed the deal with a 26-yard game-winning TD run with less than three minutes to play.
Now, make no mistake — this was not a pretty effort. The Bombers registered just three first downs in the first half and just 283 yards overall.
The defence gave up 266 yards passing in three quarters to a Montreal QB in Jonathan Crompton who was a fourth stringer just a couple of weeks ago. And a fake punt on special teams was hopelessly muffed — it both failed and was illegal.
If the Bombers play the same way in Regina, they’re going to get spanked by the Riders the same way they do almost every Labour Day weekend.
And if they play the same way through the rest of the second half of the season — with games against West Division opponents in seven of nine remaining games — they are going to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row.
But on this night, against this deeply troubled Montreal team, it was good enough for this Bombers team to finally put it together late in the fourth quarter — as they have done over and over and over again this year — and do just enough to get the win.
"(Wins) all count the same in the regular season," observed Bombers QB Drew Willy, "but you see the way the West Division is shaping up... To get back on that winning track and just basically get us going as a team in that second half and get some momentum going into Saskatchewan is big for us." They say the secret to success in sports is to win all the games you’re expected to win — and then a few more.
With five wins in six games this season against weak East Division opponents, the Bombers have certainly been holding up their end in the first category.
The question now, with all those games against West Division powerhouses still looming, is how many in the other category will these Bombers win.
Friday’s win was the fourth time this season the Bombers came from behind in the fourth quarter to get the gamewinning score.
Willy was asked what it is about him and the late-game heroics.
"I definitely enjoy playing in the fourth quarter. I just try to stay calm cool and collected," said Willy. "But I wish we would have played better in the first half, for sure. We knew what they were doing — we just need to execute better as an offence. I think every single guy on the offence would tell you that." Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea reportedly tore some paint off the Bombers locker-room at halftime Friday night with his team trailing the Als 6-1 after a lacklustre first half.
"He’s really a straight shooter and obviously he told us to pick our game up," recalled QB Drew Willy.
"He was maybe a little louder, but it wasn’t anything... He’s always truthful with us and that’s what we love about him. There’s no runaround. He’s really straight to the point and told us what we needed to get done...
"There was definitely a spark coming out for the second half." O’Shea downplayed any role he might have had in lighting the spark. "I don’t think there was anything different at halftime. I generally don’t speak a long time. I’m generally honest with them and tell them what I see and then I let the coaches come in and do what they need to do.
"The longer I speak the less time the coaches have to help their guys be successful. I try to be very brief and I try to be very efficient."
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