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This article was published 15/8/2019 (333 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mike Reilly has made a career out of dissecting defences. His ability to push the ball downfield and take over games is why the B.C. Lions signed the 34-year-old to one of the richest contracts in CFL history, inking the nine-year veteran to a four-year, $2.9-million deal.
On Thursday, it was the Bombers defence that proved to be the biggest bargain on the night. Picking up the slack for a sputtering offence once again, the defence cashed in on a struggling B.C. offence, taking over the game late en route to a 32-16 victory at IG Field.
"Its very hard for all three phases of the game to all have a perfect game and this was just one of the games the defence was able to come out on top," said Bombers halfback Marcus Sayles. "We were able to do what we needed to do."
Clinging to a 15-13 lead late in the third quarter, and with their offence sputtering after a strong start, it was the Bombers defence that provided a much-needed spark to separate from a tight-knit affair.
A Willie Jefferson interception broke open the game, the Bombers defensive end returning the ball from midfield to the Lions’ 29. Five plays later, including an improbable conversion on second-and-19, Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols plunged in front the one-yard line to put the hosts up 22-13.
"If those plays go to him he makes them, he’s that type of player," Bombers safety Jeff Hecht said of Jefferson. "He doesn’t just make plays, he has a knack for making a play in a crucial time. Some players get a lot of picks and they’re not game-changing, where other players make plays and it’s necessary. Willie is one of those guys."
On the ensuing drive, the Lions lasted just two more plays before having to punt. Marcus Sayles took over from there, blocking the kick — his third this season — before promptly recovering the ball and running nine yards into the end zone to give the Bombers a 29-13 edge. From there, the defence suffocated Reilly as he held on for dear life, including four sacks in the final 11 minutes.
Reilly, who has led the CFL in passing the last three seasons, completed just 16 of 28 passes for 177 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked seven times and the Lions’ offence mustered just 217 net yards.
"There was an emphasis on just keeping him in the pocket. We learned from the past where we let him scramble a lot of. We adjusted where he had no other option but to hold it," said defensive tackle Steven Richardson.
When the teams hit the turf, they did so with their seasons moving in opposite directions. The Bombers were first in the West Division, the Lions last. That separation didn’t look obvious at first, as the clubs battled back and forth for much of the night. Eventually, the cream rose to the top.
In the end, the Bombers’ victory keeps their place atop the CFL, improving their record to 7-2. It was the fifth straight win on home soil, and the eighth dating back to last season.
As for the Lions, a fifth straight loss has their toes dangling over the plank, their year all but over as they fell to 1-8. It’s hard to imagine B.C. making a push, leaving them with an expensive quarterback in a now-worthless season in front of them.
Winnipeg finished with 274 yards of net offence. Matt Nichols attempted just 12 passes on the night, completing 10 for 179 passing yards, 124 of those coming in the opening quarter. Nichols night went from good, to bad, to worse after a Shawn Lemon sack with eight minutes to go knocked him out of the game.
Nichols looked in visible pain and appeared to favour his throwing shoulder. When he retreated to the sidelines, he lasted about a minute before exiting to the locker room. Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was unable to provide at update.
The highlight on offence came late in the game when running back Andrew Harris eclipsed Ben Cahoon for yards from scrimmage by a Canadian. Harris needed 65 and he finished with 73, all on the ground, putting the 32-year-old at 13,377 yards.
The Bombers offence was without a touchdown in last week’s win over the Calgary Stampeders, and had just one in their previous six quarters heading into Thursday. It took just 5:03 for the offence to reach pay dirt, with Winnipeg orchestrating an eight-play, 66-yard drive on the game’s opening series.
Facing a second-and-goal from the Lions’ five-yard line, Nichols delivered a pass in the end zone to Nic Demski to give the hosts an early 7-0 lead. Two penalty flags, including a defensive pass interference call on a deep pass from Nichols to Chris Matthews down the right sideline, aided the series.
Up 10-0 after a Justin Medlock field goal and pressing to add to the lead on their third series thanks to another deep pass, this time to Demski for 53 yards, the Bombers’ luck began to turn. That drive stalled just yards from the end zone, as Nichols, pressured to deliver the ball, had his pass bobble off the hands of Drew Wolitarksy and into the arms of B.C.’s Maleki Harris.
Then, in a curious move, the Bombers began their next drive with backup Chris Streveler behind centre. The plan looked promising, as Streveler opened with two runs and a first down. On the next play, however, Streveler was forced to roll left out of the pocket and without an open receiver he looked to throw the ball away. But as it travelled to the sidelines, linebacker Isaiah Guzylak-Messam interrupted its path and the ball popped into the air.
Coming down with it was another B.C. defender, Junior Luke, and the Lions were soon pressing for the tie. The defence limited the drive to just three plays, but the Lions were already in kicking distance, cutting the Bombers lead to 10-6 with a 50-yard field goal from Sergio Castillo.
Nichols would be back in again and the offence made it close enough to build on their lead, only for Medlock to clang his 45-yard attempt off the left upright. An offence that was seemingly unstoppable was suddenly invisible.
The defence accounted for the host’s points in the second quarter, forcing the Lions to surrender a safety in the waning moments before halftime to give the Bombers a 12-6 lead.
The Lions struck early in the second half, taking their first lead of the game on the first drive of the third quarter. Reilly threw a backwards pass to Duron Carter, only for Carter to pitch the ball downfield to Lemar Durant for a 56-yard gain. B.C. capped off the drive with a pair of runs from John White, including a four-yard touchdown to give the Lions their first lead.
That was the last notable play by the visitors, with Castillo adding the final of his three field goals on the 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.
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Updated on Thursday, August 15, 2019 at 11:19 PM CDT: Adds photos
11:23 PM: Updates number of sacks
12:26 AM: Final version.