Tie with Riders exposes several bright spots


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REGINA — The CFL pre-season is all about shaking off the rust and there was plenty of that in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ pre-season opener Saturday — a 25-25 tie to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the brand-new Mosaic Stadium.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/06/2017 (2004 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

REGINA — The CFL pre-season is all about shaking off the rust and there was plenty of that in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ pre-season opener Saturday — a 25-25 tie to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the brand-new Mosaic Stadium.

There were also some bright spots, with a handful of players standing out, at least enough to earn a second look when the Bombers conclude the exhibition season Thursday night against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are five takeaways from Saturday’s tilt with the Riders.

RICK ELVIN / THE CANADIAN PRESS Matt Nichols slides after being driven out of the pocket under pressure.

1) Much has been written about who will take over the No. 2 spot on the Bombers’ quarterback depth chart behind starter Matt Nichols. The battle is between Dominique Davis, a 27-year-old now in his third season in Winnipeg and Dan LeFevour, 30, who signed as a free agent in February and is looking to solidify a home with the Bombers, his fourth CFL team in as many years.

The hope was one would emerge as the go-to backup with their play in the pre-season. But both were able to impress on Saturday, and the picture is no clearer than it was prior to kickoff, even if LeFevour earned a slight edge with two touchdown drives compared to Davis’s one. LeFevour, called upon late in the fourth quarter trailing 22-10 and playing mostly against the Riders’ third-string defence, orchestrated back-to-back touchdown drives to give the Bombers their first lead of the game. He finished seven for nine for 88 yards and the two scores — an 18-yard strike to Ryan Lankford on a corner route, then to Justice Liggins, who hauled in a pretty catch from 24 yards out.

As for Davis, it was his first taste of game action in a year — he didn’t take a single snap in the regular season in 2016 — but that didn’t seem to affect his ability to run the offence. Davis completed five of eight passes for 90 yards, with his longest play a 39-yard TD to T.J. Lowder.

2) With nearly half of the 65 players that suited up for the Bombers playing in their first CFL game, mistakes were bound to happen. But that doesn’t excuse the number of penalties the Bombers took — in total, the Blue and Gold drew 12 penalty flags, totalling 112 yards.

But as bad as the penalties were, the timing for some made them even worse.

An illegal contact penalty on Brian Walker wiped out a sack by Drake Nevis, which would have put the Riders at third-and-impossible. Instead of punting, however, the flag gave Saskatchewan a new set of downs and they’d go on to score their only touchdown of the game (a seven-yard catch by Duron Carter from Brandon Bridge.)

Then, with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter — and the Bombers clinging to a three-point lead — Matt Smalley was flagged for pass interference. The result: the Riders went from their own 30-yard line to the Bombers’ 46. Three plays later, Saskatchewan tied the game with a field goal, making it 25-25 with three seconds left, with no overtime in the pre-season.

But the worst penalty of all came in the dying moments of the first half, when, with the Riders punting from deep in their own end, L’Damian Washington was called for lining up offside. The penalty proved costly, negating what would have been a 70-yard return for a touchdown by the speedy Ryan Lankford, who was unable to replicate the same magic in the dying moments as the clock expired.

It was a déjà vu moment for Bomber fans. Last year, a total of four punt-return touchdowns — all by Kevin Fogg — were called back due to flags.

“We’ll have to look at that,” said Bombers coach Mike O’Shea. “I don’t think that had a bearing on the return though so that was a positive.”

3) Though disappointing for Lankford that the touchdown didn’t count, it certainly wasn’t for nothing. The play redeemed the 25-year-old, who joined the Bombers this year after spending parts of the last two seasons with the Riders, after he fumbled another return earlier in the game that resulted in the Riders taking over inside the Bombers’ 10-yard line. Lankford, who finished with a team-high four catches for 47 yards, would eventually find the end zone, connecting with LeFevour in the fourth quarter that helped spark the comeback.

“It wasn’t a perfect game,” he said. “There were a lot of things I could have done better, there were a lot of things that I did do great.”

Lankford wasn’t the only new face to the Bombers that stuck out. Other notable mentions include defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (three tackles, a QB sack and a forced fumble) and running back Kendall Roberson (six carries for 36 yards and another 11 in the air).

Timothy Flanders, the tailback who spent all of last season behind Andrew Harris, also has had a strong night. He averaged 6.6 yards on five carries — 33 yards in total — and caught three of four passes fired his way for another 19.

4) While some were able to shine, others didn’t fare as well, including Bombers defensive back Tahaan Goodman. The UCLA product was ejected from the game midway through the second quarter — immediately following the Lankford fumble — after he got into a skirmish with Riders defensive lineman Jonathan Newsome. At one point, Tahaan, rolling on the ground, seemed to have Newsome’s ankle in a locked position, continuously yanking it.

Terence Frederick, the front-runner to start at field corner, also struggled at times. A number of times his receiver came up with catches, including Duron Carter, who beat Frederick for the Riders’ only score. Nichols also was unimpressive in his play, finishing 5-for-8 for just 32 yards. Neither is all that concerning at this point, especially given the number of starters that were out of the lineup. But it also shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Bombers are expected to make a number of cuts, which will be announced sometime today. Winnipeg currently has 90 players on the roster, a number that will need to be whittled down to 56 by June 17.

“We’ll make a better decision on that in terms of whether we should or shouldn’t based on the effort we see on film,” O’Shea said. “You’d like to keep as many as you can but for the second exhibition game you also need to get guys in their spots so they can get some good work in.”

5) CFL officials were subjected to a ton of flak last season for a number of questionable calls — an outcome, one could argue, coming as part of the adjustment to a number of recently instituted rules. But what happened following the Lankford botched punt return in the second quarter was borderline inexcusable.

For a time that felt like forever — but was more likely closer to 10 minutes or so — the refs convened in a huddle together trying to come up with the right call. Meanwhile, neither team knew what was happening or who to put on the field. At one point, the Bombers offence and Riders defence was on, only for them to be switched after determining a correct call.

Perhaps it was the perfect storm of chaos — Goodman’s ejection, a penalty called on each team and an unsuccessful challenge for no yards by the Bombers all contributing to the confusion — but even then it was still an unfavourable sight for a league that has promised to increase the pace of play.

The only saving grace was the game wasn’t televised, meaning the 33,000 or so fans at Mosaic Stadium were the only ones left shaking their heads as they waited for the game to continue. twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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