EDMONTON – In the end, Chris Streveler saved his best for last.
Streveler, who was forced into the spotlight after Matt Nichols suffered a serious shoulder injury a week ago, was having an unspectacular evening before making the game’s pivotal play in the waning minutes. The Blue Bombers quarterback, with victory hanging in the balance, was facing a second-and-goal from the Edmonton Eskimos’ 6 when he tucked the ball under his arm and drove through a line of would-be tacklers, eventually finding the end zone for a touchdown.
The score swelled the Bombers lead to 30-18 with just over two minutes remaining, an edge big enough for droves of fans to make their way to the exits. In true CFL fashion, a league where seemingly anything can happen, it wouldn’t be enough for Bombers fans to exhale just yet. Edmonton made a valiant effort to snatch away the win, including a 75-yard touchdown by receiver Tevaun Smith that made it a one-score game with just more than a minute remaining.
A failed onside kick, which required a review by the command centre, gave the Bombers the ball back and they ended the drive with a 50-yard field goal by Justin Medlock that ultimately sealed the win. The Eskimos added a head-scratching 48-yard field goal by their best player on the night, kicker Sean Whyte, as time expired, leaving the Bombers with a 34-28 victory Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
"At the end of the game it’s imperative that we play clean football and don’t take penalties," Streveler told CJOB 680 after the game, referring to a pair of flags against Edmonton that set up his touchdown. "I feel great right now. It feels good to get the win."
The victory improved the Bombers record to a league-best 8-2, and completed the two-game series sweep of the Eskimos. Winnipeg has now won three straight and remain perfect in the West Division (5-0).
"It was a big win. The West is not easy," Medlock, who was 4-for-4, told CJOB. "You need to be playing on top of your game the whole time and you slip up for a few games and you’ll be in third real quick."
Edmonton dropped to to 6-4 with the loss to remain second in the West, with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-3) Calgary Stampeders (5-4) right on their heels. It was the first defeat at home for the Eskimos in eight games dating back to last season.
Streveler attempted just 17 passes on the night, completing just seven for 89 yards, in what was just his fifth CFL start. He added an impressive 95 rushing yards on 14 carries as the Bombers offence mustered a grand total of 251 yards of net offence.
The Eskimos dominated in offensive yards, totalling 489, while also leading in first downs (22 to 17) and time of possession (31:39 to 28:21). But the Bombers defence, despite giving up a whopping 430 passing yards to Edmonton quarterback Trevor Harris, came up when it mattered most, limiting the Eskimos to seven field goals by Sean Whyte, including 0-for-3 in the red zone.
"Three sacks, two forced fumbles, a couple of tackles – I’d say this was the best game I’ve had in my career," Willie Jefferson, who was responsible for swatting the ball out of bounds on the onside kick, said. "It was a crazy game."
The Bombers knew if they were going to leave the night successful, they would have to get to Harris. Harris entered the night with a league-leading 3,051 passing yards at the halfway mark of the season. Early on, it looked like Harris was settling into his usual self.
On his first drive, he connected with DaVaris Daniels for a 46-yard gain, leading Edmonton to an early 3-0 lead with a 20-yard field goal from Whyte. Harris would finish with 103 passing yards by the end of the first quarter, but it was his mistakes in the opening frame that led to his team trailing 10-3.
After the Bombers tied the game 3-3 with a 27-yard field goal from Medlock, Harris took over at his own 35 but wouldn’t make it far before giving it back to the visitors. Jefferson, who said earlier this week that he was just "starting to hit his peak", registered his league leading fourth forced fumble, ripping the ball from the hand of a scrambling Harris. Winnipeg, who took over at the Edmonton 24, marched to within sniffing distance of the end zone.
But Bombers running back Andrew Harris was stripped of the ball by defensive tackle Almondo Sewell and Edmonton took over on their own 3. Just when it looked like the Eskimos might surrender a safety, an offside by Jeffersonon second-and-10 breathed new life into the drive. Harris would connect with Daniels on a 32-yard pass on the very next play, and suddenly Edmonton was rolling once more.
But just as they reached midfield, Harris was intercepted, the ball deflecting off the hand of Bombers defensive end Alex McCallister, who was signed on Monday, and into the arms of a diving Marcus Rios. Rios, who was recently re-activated from the 6-game injured list, quickly got to his feet and promptly retuned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown, giving Winnipeg their first lead.
That didn’t seem to rattle Harris, who went right back to Daniels early in the second quarter. The 54-yard completion to Daniels, who finished with a game-high 207 receiving yards on 10 catches, pushed the Eskimos to within striking distance. But the drive eventually stalled and Whtye was called out for a 37-yard field goal, cutting the Bombers lead to 10-6.
While Harris was viewed as a major obstacle for the Bombers, the Eskimos defence was also a tall order for a Winnipeg offence that was now being led by Streveler. The Eskimos were not only allowing the fewest points (18) and fewest yards (258) per game, they also had more sacks than any other CFL club, with 30.
Streveler didn’t have a great start, and the rain did help with his handle on the ball. He fumbled on the game’s second play, though recovered it and the Bombers punted. But the 24-year-old showed off his versatility before the halftime break.
Streveler is known for his rushing abilities, a key asset in his previous role as the short-yardage pivot, finished with 61 rushing yards compared to 64 passing yards through through two quarters. Nearly half of that rushing total would come on a 30-yard dash midway through the second quarter, with Streveler pushed out of bounds just short of the goalline. One play later, Harris rushed the ball in from two yards out, giving the Bombers a 17-6 edge.
Streveler would get one last chance to add to the Bombers lead before halftime. Up 17-9 after another stalled drive ended with another Whyte field goal for Edmonton, Streveler orchestrated a quick five-play, 32-yard series that put Medlock in kicking distance. The 51-yard boot cleared the upright by a fingernail and the Bombers took a 20-9 lead into the break.
The last time these two teams met, back in Week 3 in Winnipeg, the Bombers won 28-21, thanks in great part to Edmonton’s inability to find the end zone. That game Whyte accounted for all of the Eskimos’ points, with seven field goals.
That pattern continued throughout the first half on Friday, and into the third quarter. A promising drive by Edmonton to open the second half was once again denied, leading to one more short kick by Whyte. His 29-yard field goal, 5:23 into the third quarter, made it a one-score game, 20-12.
Harris, the Winnipeg one, said the Bombers, under Streveler’s offence, were going to keep it simple, chewing up the clock with mostly strong runs. They were able to do that for a good stretch in the third, as Streveler attempted only three passes in the frame – with zero completions – taking more than five minutes before setting up a 37-yard field by Medlock. 23-12 Bombers.
Right on cue, the Eskimos answered with a lengthy drive, only for Whyte to boot his fifth field goal, this one from 29 yards, to make it a 23-15 game. It got to a point where something eventually had to give, but it wouldn’t, at least not on Edmonton’s next possession.
Yet again, another promising series would result in just three points. Facing second-and-6 on Winnipeg’s 14, Harris had his pass deflected by, whom else, Jefferson. Jefferson’s CFL-leading ninth pass knockdown forced an over-worked Whyte to come out again; a 21-yard kick cut the Bombers’ lead to 23-18 with fewer than eight minutes remaining. The Bombers, needing a spark on offence, answered back with Streveler’s game-saving touchdown.
The Bombers continue their stroll through the West Division with back-to-back games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, beginning with next week’s Labour Day Classic tilt. The Eskimos will head into next weekend with the first stage of the Battle of Alberta, playing visitors to the Calgary Stampeders before returning the favour the following week.
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 23, 2019 at 11:43 PM CDT: updates headline
11:53 PM: Adds photo
12:04 AM: Full write through
12:29 AM: Fixes typo