The story heading into the game was the return of star running back Andrew Harris, but in the end, it was the rookie kicker that stole the show.
It wasn't a spectacular performance by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday night by any means, but Marc Liegghio's leg made up for the bad as his four field goals pushed the Blue and Gold past the Calgary Stampeders for an 18-16 victory at IG Field in front of 22,806 fans.
Liegghio made kicks from 50, 42, and 37 yards out before he was trotted out for the game winner with 42 seconds on the clock. Liegghio initially missed the kick, but it was negated as the Bombers — who improve to 3-1 on the year — were called on a time count violation, pushing them back 10 yards to the 45 yard mark. Liegghio, who also missed an extra point in the first quarter, made no mistake on take two. Calgary rookie quarterback Jake Maier gave the Stamps a chance to steal the game on the final play, but kicker Rene Paredes — who was a perfect 12/12 on the year — came up short on a 52 yard attempt. The loss puts the Stamps in a 1-3 hole.
"That's the first game you dream of. I never thought my first game would come to that and I'm just glad that I made all my field goals and I helped the team get the win in the end," Liegghio told reporters postgame.
"Obviously I missed that first PAT early on and I wanted to make sure I was going to be perfect from that point forward... It's a pretty exciting feeling hitting a game winner and I'll remember this moment forever."
Liegghio handled the team's punting and kickoff duties the first three weeks but now finds himself kicking field goals, too, as veteran Tyler Crapigna is on the six-game injured list with a hamstring issue. Liegghio took the blame for the time count violation at the end, saying he took too much time to get ready.
"In the end, you do the same stroke from whatever yard mark you're at. It was kind of nice listening to the other team kind of giving it to me saying 'You're gonna miss!' and I kind of take that as energy," Liegghio said.
"Hitting it, seeing the crowd ignite, and the team run out up to me was such an amazing feeling."
Liegghio did most of the scoring, but Harris was no afterthought. It was his first game in nearly 650 days and he was coming off a lingering calf injury that had kept him out of action since the beginning of training camp, but yet, the 34-yard-old looked like the same old No. 33. Harris ran the ball 17 times for 81 yards and scored Winnipeg's lone touchdown.
"It felt great. After the first series, got the jitters out of the way," Harris said.
"We've got some work to do. It was great to get that win in that kind of fashion, a grinder kind of a game. Some of those runs were tough runs. We were able to get that big kick at the last second there, and then our defence shows up. It's one of those games that gets you fired up. There's a lot of things to fix. But when you come out with a win like that, it's great for everyone."
Harris scored in the opening quarter, but Calgary ended up leading 13-9 at the half. Maier, who was in only his second career start as he's filling in for Bo Levi Mitchell who's out with a broken leg, completed his first 17 passes before he fired an incompletion early in the third quarter. Maier completed 30 of 39 passing attempts on the night for a total of 307 yards and no interceptions. The CFL record for consecutive pass completions in a game belongs to Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (23) who set the mark back in 2016.
The Bombers failed to sack Maier all game.
"He's getting rid of the ball very quickly, so we're not able to get our rush home," said Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea.
"Maybe a few of those we could tighten up in the coverage, but I don't know, we ended up winning. Whatever their completion percentage looks like, we'll look at that tomorrow and there's certainly things that we will probably correct and wish we would've done a little better but we came away with the win."
Minutes after Maier's first incompletion, Bombers receiver Kenny Lawler hit the ground to catch a deep pass from Collaros. Lawler quickly got up and ran for a 77-yard touchdown as it appeared at first that he went untouched by the two Calgary defenders that were in the area. After review, the call was overturned and Lawler had to settle for a 33 yard play. The Bombers would also have to settle for a field goal on that drive as Liegghio cut Calgary's lead to 13-12.
Overall, the Bombers weren't very crisp on offence. Quarterback Zach Collaros completed 16 of 25 passes for 243 yards, but his receivers didn't do him many favours. In the first half, Lawler and Drew Wolitarsky had crucial drops on second down that forced punts. Lawler had another drop late in the third quarter that forced yet another punt. Rasheed Bailey led the team in receiving with 108 yards, highlighted by a 50-yard catch and run that set up the Harris touchdown.
Luckily for the Bombers, Calgary defensive tackle Mike Rose made up for the drops as he had not one, but two unnecessary roughness penalties in the fourth quarter. Early in the final frame, Rose did his best Brock Lesnar impersonation by suplexing Collaros to the turf. On Winnipeg's game-winning drive, Rose hit Collaros high and was flagged for 15 yards again.
"Well, I mean, it's not the nail biter that's a high scoring game that pleases everybody, but it's certainly a win," O'Shea said.
"I thought it was exciting for the fans. That's not a bad thing to have some excitement. Certainly, there's some lessons to be learned and that's a positive thing, too."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.