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CFL pre-season opener sees Bombers fall 24-22 to Toronto Argonauts

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WINNIPEG - Drew Willy debuted as the starting quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Monday as they fell 24-22 to the Toronto Argonauts to open the CFL pre-season.

The CFL Players Association is expected to vote this week on a tentative contract with the league that may determine whether the pre-season, or regular season, continues beyond Monday.

Both teams used the game to take a good look at their rookies.

Toronto also made the first successful challenge of a failure to call pass interference under new rules brought in this season that made it subject to video review. It helped set up Steve Slaton's second touchdown of the game to put Toronto ahead 24-16.

The Bombers saw CFL rookie running backs Paris Cotton and Nic Grigsby deliver some of the same stuff they've flashed in practice and Canadian receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino scored his first touchdown.

They also got solid performances from the two players auditioning for the kicking job.

Toronto got a few good carries from running back Jeremiah Johnson, those two touchdowns from Slaton and a solid first quarter out of quarterback Trevor Harris, not a rookie but a likely candidate to move up to Ricky Ray's No. 1 backup this season.

The Bombers scored first on a 43-yard field goal from Lirim Hajrullahu, a rookie Canadian out of Western, set up by a 47-yard pass from Willy to veteran receiver Clarence Denmark.

Toronto made it 7-3 with a little more that three minutes to go in the first after a one-yard run by sophomore running back Curtis Steele. Slaton then ran 13 yards for Toronto's second touchdown about three minutes into the second quarter as the Argos moved ahead 14-3.

The Bombers came back with a solid 76-yard drive capped by a short touchdown pass to an unguarded Feoli-Gudino and closed the gap to four points.

Brett Maher closed it to one with a 47-yard field goal before the first half ended. Maher is the import also vying for the kicker's job and he had a 35-yarder in the fourth.

Toronto's Josh Jasper missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt in the third but connected with a 14-yard kick later in the quarter.

The Bombers tested all four of their quarterbacks Monday with Max Hall taking over from Willy with about four minutes left in the second quarter.

Willy completed six of his 12 passing attempts for 108 yards and one touchdown before he left the game. He escaped throwing his first interception as a Bomber on a penalty.

Brian Brohm replaced Hall in the third and Robert Marve late in the fourth. It was Marve who brought the Bombers within two late in the game but they failed on the two-point convert attempt to leave it at 24-22.

Toronto didn't dress veteran starting quarterback Ricky Ray, replacing Harris with Mitchell Gale in the second quarter and leaving him in until Casey Pachall took over in the fourth.

Running back Anthony Coombs also got to appear in front of a hometown crowd Monday as a CFL player for the first time, although not in a Bombers' uniform. The former University of Manitoba Bison was drafted by the Argos third overall this year.

The two teams should know each other well, although both have made significant changes since last season.

Former Winnipeg head coach Tim Burke (defensive co-ordinator) heads a cast of former Bomber coaches now working for the Argonauts and former Toronto special teams co-ordinator Mike O'Shea took over from Burke as head coach of the Bombers.

If it isn't derailed by a work stoppage, the Bombers and Argos are also set to open the regular CFL season when they meet again in Winnipeg June 26.

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