TORONTO -- Make no mistake: The reaction to the hit was just as big as the hit itself.
The hit, of course, was the one Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce took early in the third quarter of the Blue Bombers' 33-24 win over the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre Saturday afternoon.
Let's set the scene.
Pierce, trailing by 11 points at halftime, has the ball on the Toronto 43-yard line, and after rolling up and down the offensive line in front of him, he settles into a spot on the field where he can see an open receiver.
He delivers a strike to Terrence Edwards to the Argos' 13-yard line. A split second after the ball is out of his hand, Toronto linebacker E.J. Kuale delivers a thundering blow to Pierce -- a crack that had many of the 21,189 fans murmuring about the QB's health.
Deep breath, people.
"It was probably the biggest play of the game up until that point," Pierce said afterwards. "I don't know if it lit a fire under our guys up front, but they did a great job all (game) -- opening holes for (tailback Fred Reid) and even lanes for me to scramble."
Kuale was charged with a rough play penalty, as officials deemed the hit a direct helmet-to-helmet shot. He was ejected from the game.
Pierce then found Terence Jeffers-Harris for a seven-yard TD pass three minutes into the second half, and the Bombers never gave up the momentum.
As for lighting a fire under the Bombers offensive line: Well, it sparked pretty quickly after seeing Pierce lying on the carpet.
Glenn January, Brendon LaBatte and a host of other big eaters went directly at Kuale, who didn't want to get too deep in things -- at least not past the point he was already in. The Bombers seemed to issue a challenge right there, saying that if you're going to hit our guy, there are going to be consequences.
Like being outscored 27-7 in the final 30 minutes.
"I wasn't really thinking about what this was going to do for the team," said January, who's been one of the more vocal Bombers when it comes to late hits on Pierce. "My quarterback just took a late hit, and I needed to make sure that he knows that it's not all right.
"If that was the turning point, so be it."
How important was that play (or reaction) in the eyes of the team? Head coach Paul LaPolice gave Pierce the game ball for his best showing of the season (22-of-27 for 361 yards and three touchdowns), and that much-deserved game ball was quickly passed over to the O-line for a job well done.
For example: Reid finished his work rushing 19 times for 84 yards and the Toronto defence had only one sack.
As for the home side, they weren't as buoyed by the call on Kuale.
Late hit? Sure.
Intent to injure with an ejection? Debatable.
"It might have been a late hit, but it wasn't blatantly late," Argos coach Jim Barker said. "I've seen players have helmet-to-helmet hits and they don't get ejected. Officials make the calls they think are right and they're game-changing calls.
"They are calls that change an entire game."
Before that play, things looked bleak for the Bombers.
The Argos were up 17-6 at the break, thanks in part to the early effort put forth by QB Cleo Lemon. He engineered an opening-drive TD but was knocked out of the game on Toronto's second possession by Winnipeg linebacker Joe Lobendahn, whose hit removed Lemon's helmet and some of his teeth. He needed dental work after the play, and didn't return.
Dalton Bell (13-of-27 for 169 yards) came in for the home side, and though he managed to lead the Argos to a pair of touchdowns -- one by slotback Sammy Tranks, the other by running Chad Kackert (his second of the game) -- he threw two interceptions and never found a groove in the second half.
Jeffers-Harris ended his day with five catches for 107 yards and two scores. His second of the game was an 84-yard grab and dash in front of the Argos bench in the fourth quarter.
Veteran slot Terrence Edwards had the other TD for Winnipeg, a 63-yard reception in the third quarter that gave the Bombers their first lead of the game.
Just like the previous meeting between the clubs this season -- a 22-16 Bombers victory in Winnipeg -- Saturday's game could have had a Ben Gay sponsorship attached to it. The hitting was hard all day, and when it wasn't hard defences made it a point to invite everyone to the party for a gang-tackle.
Winnipeg (3-1) now leads the season series with Toronto (1-3) by two full games and holds a brief share of the East Division lead with 3-0 Montreal, who play tonight. Last season the Argos took all three contests with the Bombers.