Travis Lulay’s first start in nearly 10 months didn’t get off to an encouraging start.
The veteran quarterback and his B.C. Lions waited until the third quarter to trigger the offence, scoring 20 unanswered points in the second half for a 20-17 come-from behind victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
Winnipeg was up 17-0 at the break and looked to have the win within reach, but timely turnovers by the Bombers and a strong drive from the returning Lulay late in the game set up Ty Long’s 16-yard field goal as time expired.
“We just hunkered down,” said Lulay. “It’s gut check time and we found a way to make enough plays to win.”
Saturday was Lulay’s first start of the year after he underwent off-season knee surgery. He got the nod over a struggling Jonathon Jennings against the Bombers and threw for 326 yards, including one touchdown pass and one interception.
Long’s field goal gave the Lions (2-2) a split in the home-and-home series, and snapped the team’s two-game losing skid.
The Bombers, who beat the Lions 41-19 last week in Winnipeg, fell to 2-3 with the loss.
Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols was picked off three times, while throwing for 214 yards. All told, Winnipeg had five turnovers.
“We killed ourselves,” Nichols said. “Everything we could do wrong we did wrong and still barely lost. I feel like it was a game we had every opportunity to win and we made more than too many mistakes.”
The game had barely started when Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris, a former Lion, sprinted 37 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
B.C. responded by steadily working its way down the field, but Lulay missed badly on a throw to the end zone and it was intercepted by Kevin Fogg.
Harris added another touchdown in the first half.
Winnipeg kicker Justin Medlock recovered from an early missed field goal with a 50-yarder to extend the Bombers lead to 17.
Meanwhile, the Lions were their own worst enemy. Lulay threw to Bryan Burnham in the end zone at the end of the first half, but the receiver couldn’t hang on to the ball, preventing B.C. from scoring any points.
The Lions finally put some points on the board in the final minutes of the third quarter thanks to quarterback Cody Fajardo, who reached over a massive pile on the goal line for a touchdown.
Long’s field goal at the start of the fourth narrowed the deficit to 17-10.
With just minutes to go in the game, Lions wide receiver Shaq Johnson hauled in a pass from Lulay, evaded a tackler and stretched into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to tie it.
“I just wasn’t going to be denied,” Johnson said. “I knew where we were inside the red zone and I wanted to get in there to help my team out.”
The crowd rose to its feet minutes later when B.C. defensive back Anthony Orange intercepted a Nichols pass, giving the Lions a chance to win the game in regulation despite never leading once.
The Lions seized the opportunity, with Lulay throwing 38 yards to Burnham, who recovered from his earlier drop and held tight to the football, putting the Lions back in scoring position. The Bombers challenged for offensive pass interference, but the call on the field stood, allowing the Lions to kick the winning field goal with no time left.
Lulay credited the Lions defence with forcing turnovers that allowed for key plays in the fourth quarter.
“That was huge. That’s team football. That’s how you win football games,” he said.
It was those costly mistakes that decided the game, said Bombers coach Mike O’Shea.
“We played a good first half. We didn’t really play in the second half,” he said. “Four giveaways, three (unnecessary roughing) penalties and turnovers, its tough to win like that.”
Lions coach Wally Buono was frustrated with the way his team played in the first half, despite the win.
“Everything you can imagine we did to give the game away,” he said, noting that Winnipeg is a skilled team that’s going to move the football.
Lulay’s return was important and the veteran quarterback ran the offence efficiently, Buono added.
“Travis is a veteran. He’s a very cerebral guy and he knows what to do with the football.”
The Lions could be down a running back following Saturday’s win. Jeremiah Johnson went out in the first half with what Buono said appears to be an ankle injury.
He said they weren’t thinking yet about whether or not Johnson will be back in the line up when the Lions take on the Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday.
The Bombers play the Argos in Toronto on Saturday.
Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris rushed for more than 100 yards for the 18th time in his CFL career … The game was quarterback Travis Lulay’s 70th career start for the Lions … An energized crowd of 19,541 took in the game at B.C. Place.