HAMILTON — Justin Medlock continued his mastery of the kicking game — booting six field goals in windy conditions — and Matt Nichols passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers rolled to a 39-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in CFL action, before an announced crowd of 23,517 at Tim Hortons Field Saturday night.
The victory improved the Blue Bombers’ record to 5-2, which put them in a tie with the B.C. Lions for third place in the West Division. The Ticats are 0-7 and last in the East.
Medlock, who also had one field goal attempt blocked and another hit the upright, has been a model of consistency as the Bombers improved to 10-3 in their past 13 road games, dating back to 2016. Winnipeg is 6-6 at home since the start of last season.
"I dunno, I’m just trying to figure it out," said Medlock, a former Ticat when he was asked to explain his success in Hamilton. "It seems like the last couple of times I’ve been here it’s been a little iffy. I hit every ball really well today. Of course, I hit the post on one and got that one blocked but I hit it really, really well."
Nichols went 25 for 35 passing for a 71.4 per cent completion percentage and no interceptions — his third consecutive game with a clean slate. Winnipeg tailback Andrew Harris finished with 107 yards on 14 carries.
"It’s never easy to win, especially on the road in this league so, it felt like we made some plays when we needed to but overall, we still need to clean a few things up but we’ll talk about that tomorrow because we’re excited to leave here with a win," said Nichols, whose team hosts the Edmonton Eskimos Thursday at Investors Group Field.
Nichols directed his club to a pair of come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter of games in weeks 6 and 7, but was relieved to post a less dramatic victory over the Tiger-Cats.
"It was great and we still finished the game with a score on close to the last play so, honestly it felt good; we went through some struggles in the first and second quarter," Nichols said. "It was a tight game and the guys came out in the second half and taking care of business was good for us moving forward. It’s a big win for us and we’re going to enjoy it."
Medlock is now 24 for 30 on field goal attempts this season. He contributed 21 points to the cause for the second straight game.
"I like to be perfect, obviously, so I’m trying to figure that out but we’ve got to grind it out together," Medlock said. "(Our) snapper, holder and myself try to help the team as much as we can because I think they count on me a lot on this team."
Harris, who cracked the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time this season, was thrilled to have Medlock on his side.
"Any time you’re coming away with points it’s a good thing. You want to get touchdowns instead of field goals but that’s why we love Medlock because he’s so ‘money,’" Harris said. "He made a big kick, I think it was in the third quarter, where he just killed that ball. For us, we’re going to count on him to do that but offensively, we need to be better converting those into touchdowns."
West Division teams are now 17-2-1 against East Division foes this season.
The Blue Bombers looked like they were itching to take command early in the game, taking their first three drives in the opening quarter into Hamilton territory before stalling, only to have Justin Medlock to hit on field goal attempts of 34, 31 and 31 yards. Nichols looked completely at ease in the no huddle offence, slinging passes to Clarence Denmark, Darvin Adams and T.J. Thorpe. Winnipeg finished the quarter with a 7-2 lead in first downs but a slim 9-0 lead.
In the second quarter, the Ticats awoke with an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that ended with backup quarterback Jeremiah Masoli plunging over the goal-line from the one-yard line. Mike Jones dropped a pass for two-point convert but Hamilton was back in the game, trailing 9-6.
On the following Winnipeg possession, the Blue Bombers stalled again in Hamilton territory, setting up a 43-yard field goal attempt by Medlock.
Facing a stiff breeze from the north, Medlock’s boot veered right and hit the upright.
The Blue Bombers were poised to turn on the next possession after defensive tackle Jake Thomas sacked Collaros, leading to a two-and-out for the Ticats. Kevin Fogg’s 27-yard return of a Sergio Castillo punt, bringing the ball to the Hamilton 43-yard line, was wiped out after an illegal block by rookie Canadian Abu Conte, playing his first CFL game.
Instead, Winnipeg started on its own 31-yard line but a fine 34-yard catch and run by another rookie, Ryan Lankford, set the visitors up for another Medlock field goal — this one from 44 yards out. Winnipeg led 12-6.
Then, a big breakthrough for the Bombers. Ticats running back C.J. Gable, under duress from Blue defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, bobbled a pitch from Collaros. The bouncing ball was swallowed up by Thomas, setting the Bombers up on the hosts’ 36-yard line with 2:21 left in the half. Four plays later, receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino went in motion behind the line of scrimmage a caught a six-yard scoring pass after a clever play action by Nichols.
It was a defining moment with the Bombers taking a 19-6 on the scoreboard and 17:17 to 12:43 lead in time of possession at halftime.
"He motioned down the line of scrimmage and right off the snap, came off the line and ran behind the O-line and that’s incredibly difficult for a defender to track," Nichols said of Feoli-Gudino’s TD.
"It was a good game plan, we had to dial it up for when we got in that area. We knew that was going to be an easy one for us and it was. Great scheme, great call and great execution by Julian."
Medlock struck first in the second half, hitting a 57-yarder, his longest of the season and on Winnipeg’s next possession, a 45-yard attempt, was blocked by Don Unamba, setting the Ticats up on their own 43-yard line.
The visitors thought they had padded their lead after defensive back Brian Walker knocked the ball out of Mike Jones’ hands and linebacker Sam Hurl scooped up the loose ball and galloped 63 yards for a score. After video review, the play was ruled an incomplete pass.
Collaros quickly turned that into Hamilton’s second touchdown of the game, a 29-yard pass and run by Daman Aultman, who broke a tackle by Taylor Loffler on his way to the end zone. Winnipeg’s lead was down to 22-12.
Medlock responded with a 34-yard field goal midway through the fourth and Nichols followed a Loffler fumble recovery with a 35-yard TD strike to Darvin Adams. Winnipeg was up 32-12 with less than seven minutes left. A Brian Walker interception, his first in the CFL, led to a one-yard TD run by Timothy Flanders in the final minute.
The Bombers finished with 408 total yards, including 141 on the ground.
Hamilton managed 247 total with only 31 rushing yards. Collaros went 21 for 33 (63.6 per cent) for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
NOTEWORTHY: Canadian defensive back Abu Conte, a third-round pick by the Blue Bombers in the 2017 draft, made his pro debut Saturday... O-lineman Manase Foketi and defensive tackle, Winnipeg’s first-overall draft choice in spring, were pre-game scratches... Slotback Weston Dressler, linebacker Ian Wild and defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo are all on Winnipeg’s six-game injured list and did not play. Rookie defensive back Brandon Alexander was on the one-game injured list... Former Blue Bombers defensive back Terrence Frederick, cut in training camp by Winnipeg, made his debut with the Ticats Friday. He replaced cornerback Emanuel Davis in the starting lineup in a last-minute move after Davis came down with food poisoning... Starting Ticat defensive tackle Ted Laurent left the game in the first half with a lower-body injury and did not return.
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