VANCOUVER -- Want to know what happens when four of your team's five starting offensive linemen have the grand total of three CFL starts between them and your opponent in the regular-season opener is the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions?
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers found out that answer in the most punishing way possible here at BC Place Friday night, as Winnipeg starting quarterback Buck Pierce was sacked four times and did not even see the end of the first half of the very first game of the 2012 season before he was sidelined with an apparent knee injury.
The final score -- a 33-16 victory for the Lions -- was actually closer for awhile than many were expecting in a game in which an already injury-decimated Winnipeg lineup was a heavy underdog.
The Bombers were trailing just 16-10 heading into the fourth quarter, but a 59-yard punt return by the Lions' Tim Brown early in the fourth quarter -- and a Bombers roughing penalty -- got B.C. to the Winnipeg 18-yard line. Three plays later, Lions quarterback Travis Lulay scrambled for an 8-yard TD run, his second rushing TD of the night.
That gave B.C. a 23-10 cushion, more than enough on a night when the Bombers mustered just 51 yards of net offence in the first half and just 185 overall -- much of that coming on a meaningless late TD drive -- in what was a horrendous debut for the much-anticipated new Winnipeg offensive scheme implemented by new offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton.
As expected, Lions slotback Geroy Simon set the all-time CFL record for receiving yards, hauling down a 56-yard Lulay pass at 10:03 of the fourth quarter to vault him past the previous record holder, former Bombers slotback Milt Stegall.
What no one was expecting however -- although you could argue everyone should have been expecting it given the woeful state of the Bombers offensive line -- was that the man Winnipeg was counting on leading it to the long-awaited promised land of a Grey Cup would go down less than 30 minutes into the regular season.
The severity of Pierce's knee injury wasn't immediately clear. Officially, club spokesman Darren Cameron would only describe it as a "lower-body injury."
It's not the first time Pierce has hurt his right knee. On July 16, 2010, Pierce hurt his right knee in a 28-7 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and missed three games before returning in mid-August.
The Bombers had to play without both of their projected starting offensive tackles for this season when Glenn January was a surprise scratch at game time. January has been hobbled with a leg injury for weeks, but unlike the Bombers' other injured starting offensive tackle, Andre Douglas, he made the trip to Vancouver and said as late as Thursday he would start.
With January and Douglas both out and the Bombers offensive line already a major reconstruction work anyway after the off-season departures of guard Brendon LaBatte and centre Obby Khan, the Bombers fielded an offensive line Friday night with first-time CFL starters Jordan Taormina and Paul Swiston at tackles, another first-time CFL starter in Chris Kowalczuk at centre, while Chris Greaves and his three career starts lined up at guard.
Only veteran guard Steve Morley had meaningful CFL experience and that wasn't nearly enough against a B.C. front seven even Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice acknowledged this week was maybe the toughest in the CFL.
Pierce initially came up limping after B.C.'s third sack midway through the second quarter when he was crushed by tackle Eric Taylor.
Pierce returned for the next offensive series, but was crushed again -- this time by Lions end Keron Williams. Pierce stayed in for one more play, throwing an incomplete pass and did not return again. Pierce finished just 3-for-9 for 11 yards.
Bombers backup Alex Brink entered the game for the final series of the first half and came out firing in the second half, leading the Bombers early in the third quarter on a 7-play, 47 yard drive that finished with Bombers slotback Terrence Edwards going up high in the endzone for a 14-yard TD catch -- the first Bombers major of the 2012 season.
Harris takes B.C. by storm C4