Bombers’ win over Ticats gives O’Shea some breathing room

Bombers win wasn't perfect, but it was enough to inject some hope


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It was Monday of this week when Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris pronounced what was at stake for his team in Week 3 of the CFL season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2016 (2517 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was Monday of this week when Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris pronounced what was at stake for his team in Week 3 of the CFL season.

“How we attack this week,” Harris told reporters, “is going to be the true test of the kind of team we’re going to be.”

Well, buckle up, Winnipeg fans — because if Harris is right and Thursday night’s 28-24 Bombers win in Hamilton over the Tiger-Cats revealed the true nature of these 2016 Bombers, this is going to be a wildly entertaining season.

PETER POWER / THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy (5) sets to throw during the first half of Thursday's game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Hamilton, Ont.

We’d been hearing for weeks from these Bombers how they were a better team than what they showed in blowout losses through the first two weeks of the season. On Thursday, they finally walked the talk and backed it up.

And just in the nick of time. It’s possible Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea could have kept his job if his club had lost Thursday night and fallen to 0-3 — but I certainly wouldn’t have bet on it. Instead, O’Shea now has some breathing room, and Bombers fans have reason to hope — and turn up — heading into a two-week homestand during which the Bombers will play Edmonton next week and Calgary the week after that at Investors Group Field.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? All we’ve heard — over and over and over again the past few years — is how much players love playing for O’Shea. And yet for all the love they profess for the man, these Bombers have played most nights like they hated the poor guy’s guts.

But with the head coach’s job potentially on the line, the man’s players finally turned up for him Thursday night, putting in a gritty effort — particularly on defence — that will endear them to their blue-collar hometown.

A Bombers defence that has all too often in recent seasons rolled over in the big moments on this night was instead the author of some of the game’s biggest moments, forcing six Hamilton turnovers, including a Maurice Leggett first-half interception and 50-yard return for a TD that put the Bombers in the lead to stay.

Bombers linebacker Ian Wild showed why he was in the NFL at this time of the year, putting in a dominating performance that included both a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the first half alone.

And just as it was looking as though Hamilton might score a game-winning touchdown in the dying seconds, it was Bombers defensive end Adrian Hubbard who sealed the deal with the defensive lineman’s hat trick — a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery — all on the same play.

Remember the glory days of the Bombers back in the ’80s and ’90s — heck, do you even remember Swaggerville in 2011 — when the Bombers defence would take over and put the entire team on their back? This one was like that, right to the very end.

And then there was Bombers QB Drew Willy. Making his return to the scene of a season-ending knee injury that he sustained in Week 7 last summer at Tim Hortons Field, Willy looked at times like the Ticats defence was still living inside his helmet.

He overthrew a wide-open Ryan Smith in the end zone by at least five yards in the first quarter, and when he finally did connect with Smith for a TD in the second quarter, it came on a fluke, with Willy drilling an oblivious Smith in the hip and Smith somehow hanging on to a ball he never knew was coming his way.

Don’t worry if you didn’t see that catch — it will be airing on highlight packages for decades to come.


By night’s end, Willy had big completion numbers for the third game in a row — 32-42 for 279 yards — that were also, for the third game in a row, a bit deceiving. Paul LaPolice’s offence, with its single-minded focus on very quick and very short passes, is going to flatter statistically any quarterback who lines up under centre for the Bombers this season.

But the bottom line is on this night, Willy’s big numbers also finally came with the addition of the only statistic that really matters — two points in the standings.

Was it perfect? Not even close. There were some huge breakdowns on special teams that included a comedy of errors in the first quarter that ultimately led to a 121-yard missed field-goal return for a Ticats TD by Brandon Banks.

And then there was a Willy fumble inside the 10-yard line with less than seven minutes to play and the Bombers clinging to a four-point lead that was both careless and potentially game-altering.

They were exactly the kind of bonehead moments that have killed this Bombers team on too many nights over the past few years. But not this time, not this night. Because for once, the Bombers not only manufactured their own adversity — a franchise specialty — they also rose above it.

A true test? We’ll find out soon, I guess. In the meantime, let’s just celebrate the fact that for once, the Bombers didn’t lose their pencil before the test even began.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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