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This article was published 10/8/2018 (606 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It started to look like the kind of game that has haunted the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the past.
But the defence, a unit known in recent years to break down when the game is on the line, were able to deliver down the stretch, stopping the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on a last-chance drive to wrap up a nail-biting affair Friday night at Investors Group Field.
"That’s what great defences do, you finish games and play all four quarters and it just continues to add confidence when you play that," said Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill. "If they don’t score then they don’t win."
Kicker Justin Medlock connected from 33 yards with 1:22 left on the clock to give the Bombers a six-point cushion, 29-23, and the defence stalled Hamilton’s last-ditch effort by stuffing the visitors on their 45-yard line as they attempted to convert on third-and-12.
The defence forced three turnovers and registered four sacks, holding Jeremiah Masoli and the Hamilton offence to 349 net yards. The Bombers’ offence, however, struggled after a strong start, ending the night with a season-low 255 yards.
"A lot of wins are ugly and then there’s the couple blowouts we had in previous weeks and then there’s wins like this where you kind of gut it out and make the plays you need to, to come away with the win," said quarterback Matt Nichols, who finished 13-for-24 passingfor 180 yards and two touchdowns. "It felt like adversity for four quarters and we still found a way to get the win, which is a good sign for this team."
With the win, the Bombers extended their winning-streak to three games. At 5-3, they are tied for second place in the West Division with the Edmonton Eskimos, who currently own the tiebreaker after beating Winnipeg in Week 1.
Hamilton falls to 3-5, in second place in the East Division.
The Tiger-Cats wasted little time making their presence felt. After forcing a two-and-out on the Bombers’ opening possession, Masoli orchestrated a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a one-yard run on third and goal from Alex Green.
But it was Winnipeg that would take over the momentum after that, responding with two consecutive touchdown drives of their own.
The first series — five plays for 50 yards — ended with Nichols connecting with Weston Dressler for a 10-yard score, while the second — five plays, 26 yards — was capped off by a three-yard run from Andrew Harris. The Dressler touchdown was aided by a 56-yard punt return by Nic Demski, who took over kickoff return duties after Tyneil Cooper was a healthy scratch.
Harris’s touchdown was set up by a forced fumble by Adam Bighill, which was recovered by Brandon Alexander. Those points proved big for the Bombers, who, following a 23-yeard field goal from Medlock, added just two points off a safety surrendered by Hamilton in the final 10:24 of the first half to take a 19-7 lead into the break.
But while the offence sputtered as halftime inched closer, the defence picked up the slack, continuing their steady play over the past month.
"Our defence was lights out in the first half and came through in the second half and late in the game," said Harris, who needed 94 rushing yards to reach 7,000 on his career but came up just short with 82. "It was one of those games where we had to grind every yard out, every inch, and it was nice to come out on top."
The defence forced two turnovers before the second quarter was up and added three sacks, keeping Masoli under check after his first-series touchdown. Both teams lost valuable pieces to their offences in the first half, with Dressler and Hamilton receiver Jalen Saunders each leaving the game with injuries.
After both teams opened the second half with two-and-outs, Hamilton cut into Winnipeg’s lead on their second drive. With Hamilton starting with the ball on their own 10-yard line, a pass interference call on Kevin Fogg, who obstructed Terrence Toliver before almost picking the ball off, moved the chains to near midfield. Masoli, who had 80 of his team’s 139 rushing yards, then called his own number, finding an open lane for a 36-yard gain.
But once again the Bombers’ defence came up with a big stop. Defensive end Craig Roh recorded back-to-back tackles, including a sack on Masoli on second-and-1 from Winnipeg’s 26-yard line that forced Hamilton to settle for a 39-yard Lirim Hajrullahu field goal.
With Hamilton pressing, down just 19-10, Winnipeg’s offence provided some breathing room. Nichols needed less than three minutes to draw up a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
Darvin Adams reeled in a 12-yard catch to open the march down field, before passes to Daniel Petermann (14 yards) and Harris (11 yards) put Winnipeg to within striking distance. From there, Nichols aired a ball to Nic Demski, who ran down a 34-yard pass for his third touchdown in the last two games, giving the Bombers a 26-10 lead with 6:29 left in the third quarter.
"There were times in the game where I was a little frustrated with how things were going on offence, obviously," said Nichols. "Overall, I felt like it was close but when you’re off just a little bit it can feel like how that one felt. We kind of played the game that was dealt to us…we just want to do it better for four quarters."
The Bombers host the Ottawa Redblacks next Friday night.
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.
Updated on Friday, August 10, 2018 at 11:23 PM CDT: adds subhead, formatting
12:15 AM: full write-thru