A quick-strike offence has been a recurring theme for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2019.
After Friday night’s pyrotechnics, you could add special teams to the CFL club’s long-range attacking capabilities.
Almost exactly two years since Ryan Lankford turned the trick on a 105-yard return of an opening kickoff for a TD against Toronto, game-breaking newcomer Lucky Whitehead took Zack Medeiros’ kickoff on the six-yard line Friday and scampered 104 yards, weaving in and out of traffic as he followed his blockers to pay dirt.
It was Whitehead’s third major in four CFL games.
"I could tell (by) the way he set up that I had a chance to get that ball," said Whitehead after Winnipeg’s 48-21 triumph at IG Field. "It was orginally supposed to go to Charles (Nelson), a setup to Charles. You know, it all worked out and I just hit it."
Whitehead tempered his instinct to turn on the jets as he waited for his blockers to form in front of him.
"I pressed it hard right and put my foot on the ground and got around the edge," said Whitehead. "As soon as I put my foot on the ground, the two guys on the edge came in hard and one of them fell and it was me, three blockers and the kicker... I didn’t want to outrun the blocks, so I was just staying with everybody and going with the flow."
Winnipeg tailback Andrew Harris was impressed.
"I felt like he pressed it really well and he basically got everyone crashing down and then he hit the sideline," said Harris. "He kept kind of doing that, bringing them in and getting back outside. A guy with that speed and a good scheme — coach (Paul) Boudreau does a great job getting those guys ready — and it worked out perfectly."
On Winnipeg’s next possession, Nelson gathered in Medeiros’ punt and bolted through a large crease on the left side of the Toronto coverage for an 81-yard return to the four-yard line, setting up a quick toss from quarterback Matt Nichols to Harris in the end zone.
The play, Winnipeg’s first from scrimmage, put the hosts up 14-0.
"It’s exciting," said Whitehead. "You know, Charles has that ability to take it any play. He’s quick, he’s smart right there and he takes care of the ball. It’s hard when you’ve got two guys back there that can do the same thing."
Whitehead was a multi-dimensional threat on this night, finishing with 134 yards on two kickoff returns while adding two carries for 27 yards and five receptions for 38 yards. Nelson mustered seven punt returns for 126 yards and two kickoff returns for 82, including a 55-yarder.
Whitehead’s heroics were reminiscent of his 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Aug. 13, 2016 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys when he bamboozled the Rams coverage team in a pre-season game — L.A.’s first game since leaving St. Louis.
"It’s a boost. It’s exciting, just to be in that open field and all the blockers I had in front of me," said Whitehead. "It ignites the stadium, the team and as you see, we fed off that energy."
The Argonauts finished with an 445-406 edge in net offence but the return numbers were telling — Winnipeg held a 350-150 advantage in combined yards.
INJURY LIST: Bombers starting Winnipeg safety Jeff Hecht left the game early in the first half favouring his left side and did not return. He was replaced by Derek Jones. ... right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick also left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return to action. His position was filled by Cody Speller, who moved over from left guard. Rookie Drew Desjarlais replaced Speller. Both Hardrick and Hecht watched the remainder of the game from the sidelines but remained in uniform.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Saturday, July 13, 2019 at 12:24 AM CDT: Adds photo