The Winnipeg Blue Bombers closed out Week 1 with a 33-23 win over the B.C. Lions in a highlight filled contest.
It was a fast and ferocious affair. Defence controlled the first and fourth quarters, but it was the offence and special teams really making noise in the second and third.
Bombers fans hope to see Matt Nichols return to his 2017 form, when the 32-year-old racked up almost 4,500 yards and 28 touchdowns before dropping off last year. Nichols started the season going 21-for-33 for 184 yards with three touchdowns against the Lions.
It was Mike Reilly who wasted no time creating waves first on his second drive. Up against his own goal line, he connected with speedster Bryan Burnham on back-to-back catch and runs for a combined 97 yards – Burnham finished the game with 153 receiving yards.
But the drive stalled out as quickly as it began, as the Leos settled for a Sergio Castillo field goal and an early three point lead. That burst was the only significant offence in the frame, as both defences forced two punts each.
Reilly went 22-for-39 for 324 yards with two interceptions and a major in his first start for B.C. since 2012 after six years in Edmonton.
A 25-yard punt return by Charles Nelson set Nichols and company up well to start the second. A pair of Andrew Harris runs moved the ball and Nichols rolled to his left, finding Darvin Adams for the game’s first touchdown from five yards out.
The Bombers extended the next Lions drive after penalties negated two second down stops. B.C. did eventually stop short of the end zone, as the Lions settled for a 40-yard field goal.
Nichols found Adams a second time on the responding drive for 42 yards, shifting the field position. Harris rattled off a couple more solid runs, as he tends to do, and the Bombers hit pay dirt a play later thanks to a Drew Wolitarsky grab in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
But the momentum quickly swapped back to the home team, as Brandon Rutley took the kick-off 108 yards to the house. The 30-year-old missed all but one game last year with a torn ACL. Reilly found Duron Carter for the two-point convert and the game was tied at 14.
The half wrapped up with Castillo booting his third field goal after Chandler Fenner took his second pass interference penalty putting B.C in good field position.
The Bombers got off to a hot start in the third. Reilly’s pass was tipped and Jeff Hecht caught and returned it for 52 yards. Nichols found Wolitarsky in the end zone for the second time, rolling out to the left once more from seven yards out. Hecht later notched a second pick in the fourth.
The Lions were quick to counter punch. Reilly found Carter and Burnham for big gains before hitting Lemar Durant in the corner for six from 15 yards out. But that’s not the end of it.
In a key turning point, Fenner redeemed himself for his penalties by taking back the blocked point after attempt for two points. Instead of B.C. going up by three, the game was now tied at 23.
Winnipeg went right back to the ground game. The future Hall of Famer Harris continued to create space in every way, his longest run went for 31 yards in a game he routinely tore off 10-yard plus runs. Harris finished with 148 yards rushing on 16 carries and added 27 more receiving.
The Bombers used the back’s longest run to help them grab a 30-yard Justin Medlock field goal and reclaim the lead, which stood until the fourth quarter.
After forcing a two and out, Winnipeg ate a chunk of the clock, carrying an extended drive into the final 15 minutes. A near eight minute, 12-play sequence ended with Chris Streveler punching it over the goal line, pushing the lead to 10.
Halfway through the fourth, Kyrie Wilson was carted off but was standing prior to that, after a collision with Carter. The linebacker appeared to have injured his left arm on the play.
The Lions couldn’t march back the rest of the way, as the Bombers defence tightened up and secured the win.
In Week 2, Reilly makes his return to Edmonton while Winnipeg has a bye.