Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/6/2018 (896 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It took nearly six hours to complete, making it the longest continuous game in CFL history, but only minutes for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to see an improbable victory snatched from their fingertips Thursday night to Friday morning at Investors Group Field.
The Bombers survived an early attack by Edmonton — and showed resilience through two lengthy weather delays that extended the game until 1:17 a.m. Friday — but they couldn’t find a way to beat Mike Reilly and the Eskimos’ offence when it truly mattered most.
Holding an eight-point edge with fewer than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Reilly, the CFL’s most outstanding player last season, led his team on two scoring drives — and 11 points — in the final 96 seconds. The final dagger came with eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, when kicker Sean Whyte sealed a 33-30 victory by splitting the uprights with a 45-yard field goal.
With that, here are five takeaways from the opening game of the 2018 CFL season.
STREVELER STEADY UNDER CENTRE
The overwhelming thought was that without starting quarterback Matt Nichols, who was ruled out for four to six weeks with a right knee injury, the Bombers would be lucky to tread water through the first month of the season. But after the performance from Chris Streveler, Nichols’ replacement, Winnipeg might be in better shape than first thought.
At 23 years old, and just months removed from a standout career at the University of South Dakota, Streveler was just the second player in the past 24 years to start a Week 1 game right of out college (Anthony Calvillo did it in 1994 with the Las Vegas Posse). Therefore, it seemed like a safe bet he would struggle mightily in his new role, at least at first, if only because he had spent just three days working with the first-team offence after not seeing any action with the starters throughout the pre-season.
That certainly wasn’t the case against Edmonton. After struggling to find his rhythm early in the game, including throwing an interception in the second series, Streveler settled in and went to work. He completed a modest 53.6 per cent of his passes (15 of 28) for 178 yards, but was able to string together three touchdown drives, connecting with Weston Dressler (16 yards), Darvin Adams (23) and Drew Wolitarsky (20).
Perhaps most important, his teammates gave him a vote of confidence after the game, noting how comfortable he seemed despite the unfavourable conditions. It will be interesting to see what a full week of practise can do for his mojo, as the Bombers will undoubtedly be the favourites in the Week 2 matchup Friday in Montreal against the Alouettes.
DISAPPOINTING DEFENSIVE DISPLAY
I was surprised when I read the stats sheet after the game and saw the Bombers’ defence had given up a whopping 487 yards of offence.
Of course, there was that 101-yard touchdown reception to Derel Walker just 3:26 into the game, and two other touchdown drives capped off by one-yard plunges from Reilly that easily come to mind. But despite giving up an inexcusable amount of yardage, there were large chunks of the game where the defence actually seemed in control (stay with me here).
Consider this: after Edmonton recorded two touchdowns and a field goal in three of their first four series, they were limited to just two points — a safety surrendered by the Bombers — over the next 30 minutes and 14 seconds. Simply put, to keep Reilly off the scoresheet for more than two quarters in a game is an impressive feat.
Problem for the Bombers is the game is four quarters and you need to play strong in almost all of them to walk away with a victory, especially against an Edmonton club that for many people’s money is the favourite to win the Grey Cup. As good as the defence was through the second and third quarters, they were equally bad to begin and end the game. Of the 487 yards given up, 314 of those came in the first and final frames.
Also, for what it’s worth, after the game I spoke with Chris Randle, who was the lone defender on the long Walker touchdown, and he was visibly shaken by the play. Judging by his raw emotion — and his genuine shock that he had slipped in his attempt to break up the pass — there’s a good chance he makes up for it down the road.
REILLY WORTH EVERY PENNY
He’s the highest-paid player in the CFL for a reason, and Reilly is worth every penny of his salary that comes in north of $500,000 per season. His teammates gush over him and opponents marvel at his ability to make highlight-reel plays look easy. When he’s healthy and in the lineup, there’s always a chance for Edmonton to win.
Reilly completed nearly 70 per cent of his passes (32 of 46) for 408 yards and the touchdown to Walker. He also led the Eskimos with 43 rushing yards on 11 carries, and his two rushing touchdowns put him on pace to eclipse the 12 he put up last year. Simply put, Reilly is the real deal.
But what makes him such a special player is what he was able to do in the dying moments of the game. Down 30-22 with just under six minutes remaining, Reilly put together a 14-play, 90-yard drive, followed by a successful two-point conversion — off a beautiful catch from receiver Nate Behar — to tie the game.
In the series, Reilly completed seven of eight passes, including three on second and long, and rushed four times — twice for a first down on third and short — and capped off the drive on his second attempt at a quarterback sneak.
When the Bombers followed the drive up by going two plays and a punt, leaving Reilly with 49 seconds to work with for a game-clinching drive, the 33-year-old veteran connected with Walker for a 15-yard gain on the first play that put Edmonton into field-goal distance. Three plays later the Eskimos took the lead for good.
SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS PROVE DEADLY
The Bombers were there own worst enemy at different points in the game. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to over-analyze any one play in a game and attribute the loss to it. But when the margin for error was as razor thin as it was in Game 1, you can’t help but look at a few of the Bombers’ self-inflicted wounds.
While running back Andrew Harris had a decent outing, including 77 rushing yards on 14 carries, he finished with just four targets in the receiving game, catching three for a mere six yards through the air. It’s not that the Bombers don’t have plenty of weapons in need of the ball, but in a game where it was pouring rain for long stretches and the field was soaked throughout the night, you could argue Harris should have been more involved.
Specifically, eyebrows were raised when the Bombers got the ball back late in the fourth quarter, deep in their end with the game tied 30-30, and opted to go with two passing plays. Both were incomplete, stalling the clock, when a run by Harris could have created a manageable distance for second down or at least helped run down the clock to force overtime.
Then there was the unfortunate bobble of a hold on a field-goal attempt by backup quarterback Alex Ross late in the third quarter that, if successful, could have put Winnipeg up 30-19. Ryan Lankford also fumbled the ball on a kickoff return that would have set the Bombers up with good field position inside Edmonton territory.
FOGG FINDS A RHYTHM…
AND A ROLE
Heading into training camp this season, there was a bit of uncertainty surrounding Kevin Fogg and whether he’d be able to carve out a role with the Bombers following a disappointing 2017 campaign.
Many will recall just how dynamic the defensive back was in his rookie season the year prior, when he starred on defence and was arguably the best punt returner in the West Division, if not the entire CFL (he had four return TDs called back by penalty that year).
But after beginning last year with an injured ankle that ultimately led to losing his starting job on defence, it made sense to wonder if his contribution on special teams might be enough to secure a spot on a strong Bombers roster.
Yeah, well, about that.
On Thursday, Fogg showed exactly why he deserves to be in the starting lineup and could very well stay there even when Maurice Leggett returns this week from a torn Achilles he suffered late last year.
When it became clear Leggett wasn’t going to be ready to go, the Bombers made a move to their secondary and it paid off. With Brandon Alexander shifted to the field halfback position, it cleared up Fogg to take over at corner. He didn’t disappoint, coming up big in the fourth quarter with a diving interception in the end zone that preserved the Bombers’ eight-point edge.
He was also responsible for giving the Bombers their first lead of the game, returning a missed field goal 110 yards in the dying seconds of the first half to put Bombers up 20-19.
With Leggett likely back with the first-team defence this week, taking reps at either field halfback or strong-side linebacker, you have to believe a battle for that corner spot between Fogg and Alexander is just heating up.
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.