Bombers clinch playoff spot, put Lions in dire straights

T.J. Heath silenced the ribbing from some of his Blue Bombers teammates on Saturday afternoon.

The defensive back intercepted B.C. quarterback Jonathon Jennings and ran 64 yards for a touchdown as Winnipeg clinched a playoff spot in the CFL West Division with a 26-20 victory over the Lions.

It was Heath’s fifth interception of the season, with the first four snagged way back in three July games. None of those went for a TD.

“One, it was good to get because, obviously, it was a big play in the game,” Heath said of his fourth-quarter pick that cranked up the score 26-6. “But it was good for me to get, too, because the guys had been on my head about dropping (potential interceptions).”

Grabbing a playoff spot in the process added to what Heath called a “fun day.”

“It feels good, but we still have work to do,” he said. “We’ve still got to win games.”

Winnipeg’s (11-4) playoff picture could get a boost after Saturday night’s game between the Edmonton Eskimos and visiting Toronto Argonauts. An Edmonton loss would give the Bombers a home playoff date for the first time since 2011.

Defensive back Kevin Fogg also helped Winnipeg’s defence and special teams shine when the team’s offence wasn’t at its best.

His own interception of Jennings led to Justin Medlock’s third field goal, but Fogg also took a punt return 88 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter.

“It was a long time coming for the punt return (TD),” Fogg said of his first official one. “And to get in there on defence and make a play for that interception, I think it was phenomenal. Most importantly, I thank my teammates.”

Last season as a rookie, Fogg had four punt returns for TDs all wiped out because of penalties.

Brian Burnham had a pair of fourth-quarter TD catches for the Lions (6-9), whose playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.

“We didn’t start fast,” said Jennings, who completed 24-of-39 pass attempts for 267 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. “We didn’t do anything in the middle of the game and did a couple things late, but it was too late.”

Ty Long connected on field goals from 35 and 50 and added two converts for the Lions.

Medlock was good on Winnipeg field goals from 45, 37 and 22 yards and made his two converts. The Lions also conceded a punt single and a safety.

Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols was 23-of-30 passing with no TDs and no interceptions in front of 26,434 fans at Investors Group Field.

Nichols and his offensive teammates were disappointed in their performance, even though leading receiver Darvin Adams left the game with an upper-body injury during Winnipeg’s first possession. He was later seen with a sling on his left arm and there was no update. Last season, he broke his collarbone.

Nichols wore a modified glove on his throwing hand to protect his injured ring finger. The ring and pinky fingers were inside the glove and the thumb, index and middle fingers exposed. He said it didn’t affect his mid-range and long passes.

“We made too many mistakes on offence,” Nichols said, pointing to some missed reads on his part. “Thankful our defence and special teams played so great, but it’s really hard for me to feel great about this one because on offence we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”

The Bombers held leads of 10-0 after the first quarter, 14-3 at halftime and 16-6 after three quarters.

“Guys understand that with each loss our playoff hopes are fleeting away so guys are sombre,” Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow because it’s a proud organization.”

Things got testy, even with former Lion Andrew Harris.

The Bombers running back took a costly 15-yard roughing penalty after he punched Lions defensive lineman Mic’hael Brooks, a reaction that took Winnipeg out of field-goal range in the third.

“Frustrations were mounting up – just yipping and yipping and yipping,” an apologetic Harris said. “Cooler heads have to prevail in that situation. It’s uncalled for.”

Bombers linebacker Maurice Leggett was injured when he recovered a B.C. onside kick late in the fourth.

– CP