Liegghio lifts Bombers over Stamps (& 12 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 18-16 in front of 22,806 fully-vaccinated fans at IG Field. Here are my thoughts on the game.

Here’s the kicker

Marc Liegghio served as Winnipeg’s placekicker for the first time on Sunday after veteran Tyler Crapigna was added to the six-game injured list with a hamstring injury.

The rookie out of Western missed an early convert, but followed that up by connecting on three consecutive field goals from 50, 42, and 37 yards out.

Liegghio had a chance to kick a last-minute 35-yard field goal to put Winnipeg ahead by two points. He missed the kick, but the play was blown dead due to a time-count violation. The Blue Bombers were moved back ten yards and Liegghio made the most of his second opportunity, nailing the 45-yarder for what would be the game’s winning points.

“That’s a first game you dream of,” Marc Liegghio said via videoconference. “I’m going to remember this moment forever.”

“It was nice listening to the other team giving it to me, saying, ‘You’re gonna miss! You’re gonna miss!’ I kind of take that as energy. I’m hitting it and then seeing the crowd ignite and the team running up to me, it was such an amazing feeling.”

The 24-year-old has done a really nice job of directional punting this season, though he needs to improve his distance on kickoffs. Regardless, going four-for-four on field goals in his professional placekicking debut goes a long way to proving that he can handle all three kicking duties at the professional level.

“He did an amazing job,” said veteran running back Andrew Harris. “He was cool, calm, and collected and we’re definitely proud of what he did today and we know he’s just going to build off that.”

Head coach Mike O’Shea passed up the opportunity to try some long field goals early in the season but didn’t shy away from letting Liegghio try a 50-yard attempt early in the game.

“I thought he was feeling confident. If he wasn’t feeling confident, I might not trot him out but to me, he had the confidence,” said O’Shea. “He owned that in warm-up and during the week of practice. He was prepared during the week to do that.”

Well done, Marc Liegghio. Not many people can say they booted a game-winner in their first game placekicking professionally.

The return of Andrew Harris

Reigning Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris made his 2021 season debut after missing most of training camp and Winnipeg’s first three regular season games due to a calf injury.

The local product rushed 17 times for 81 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for five yards without showing any signs of rust.

Harris told the media that he left a few plays out on the field, but it was not due to a lack “wind.” He said it felt good to get hit as the physicality served as a reminder that he can still play at a high level.

Andrew Harris entered the 2021 season with 9,038 career rushing yards, placing him eighth on the CFL’s all-time rushing list. He doesn’t have a long way to go to catch Joffrey Reynolds (No. 7, 9,213 yards) and Kelvin Anderson (No. 6, 9,340 yards), though Charles Roberts (No. 5, 10,285 yards) still has a substantial lead.

Only five players in CFL history have ever reached 10,000 career rushing yards: Mike Pringle (16,425), George Reed (16,116), Damon Allen (11,920), Johnny Bright (10,909), and Charles Roberts (10,285). All of these players are American, meaning Harris would be the first Canadian player ever to reach 10,000 career rushing yards.

The 34-year-old is now 881 yards shy of the milestone, meaning he’d have to average 88.1 rushing yards per game over Winnipeg’s ten remaining contests to reach the mark.

The new Maier of Calgary

Jake Maier had a remarkable performance on Sunday, completing his first 17 pass attempts for 172 yards. He set a new Calgary record for consecutive completions to start a game, which is wild considering how many elite quarterbacks the Stampeders have had over the years.

Dave Dickenson clearly has full confidence in his young pivot, which was demonstrated by his decision to go for it on third-and-two midway through the second quarter. Instead of punting, the head coach decided to gamble from his own 23-yard line with Maier throwing a deep shot to Josh Huff for a first down.

It would be tough to trust any quarterback with that throw, but a rookie in his second career start? Wow. Full credit to Dickenson and Maier. That took serious guts.

Pressure cooker

Winnipeg threw a ton of extra pressure against Maier, particularly late in the game in the form of five, six, and seven-man rushes.

Considering how well Calgary picked up the extra attackers and how quickly the rookie quarterback got rid of the football, I can’t help but wonder how things may have gone if Winnipeg had completely changed course.

How would Maier have responded to a three-man rush of Casey Sayles, Willie Jefferson, and Jackson Jeffcoat with nine players dropping back into coverage? We’ll never know, but it’s something I couldn’t help wondering about during some of Calgary’s long drives.

Receiving help

Winnipeg’s receiving corps missed a couple of key passes on Sunday with three drive-killing drops from Kenny Lawler (two) and Drew Wolitarsky (one).

Quarterback Zach Collaros downplayed the issue after the game in defence of his receiving corps.

“We all make mistakes. Some of them are more magnified than others because they’re easier to see for the casual observer. If I make a bad read, nobody watching the game knows that except the guys in the locker room. If someone drops a pass or misses a block, that’s pretty obvious. We all make mistakes,” said Collaros.

If Nic Demski is going to miss significantly more time with his hip injury, I think the Bombers should consider bringing in a veteran receiver.

I imagine Kenny Stafford wore out his welcome in Winnipeg in 2017, but what about free agent Naaman Roosevelt? He’s got great hands and could help move the chains on second down.

Bighill to climb

Congratulations to Adam Bighill on becoming just the tenth CFL player ever to reach 700 career defensive tackles. He’s only listed at 681 on, but league stats guru Steve Daniel has assured me that he’s actually at 701 after an eight-tackle performance on Sunday.

“I didn’t even know I was coming up on it,” said Bighill. “Consistency. That’s the one word I would put on it. I take it one day at a time, one game at a time and really just focus on my effort and what I can do to prepare and play the best for my teammates. Where I am now is a culmination of that over my career.”

The 32-year-old has a shot to pass Kevin Eiben (722) and Greg Battle (747) this season to keep moving up the all-time list.

On the line

The Blue Bombers opened as five-point favourites on Wednesday, though the line grew to seven points when Andrew Harris was announced as the starter on Saturday.

I liked Winnipeg’s chances of covering against a rookie quarterback, though that obviously didn’t happen. That sucked, considering I needed the Blue Bombers to cover after I lost big on the two-point underdog Montreal Alouettes getting crushed at home by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday.

Amos out and in

Something you don’t see every day: DaShaun Amos headed for the locker room with an injury when Kenny Lawler made his big 33-yard catch in the third quarter.

He was reportedly ruled out for the rest of the game but was quickly upgraded to doubtful before returning to the game for Winnipeg’s next drive. I have no idea what caused the quick turn of events, but I can’t remember ever seeing a player go from “out” to back on the field so quickly.

Speaking of Amos, the 26-year-old has done an excellent job of replacing Tre Roberson at Calgary’s boundary cornerback spot. He’s not a household name (yet) but he’s quickly establishing himself as one of the CFL’s best defensive backs. He completely blanketed Darvin Adams on Sunday, limiting him to one reception for 14 yards.

Every Rose has its thorn

It’s a real shame that Mike Rose took two roughing the passer penalties on Sunday because he’s better than that. He was Calgary’s only pass-rusher to reach Zach Collaros for a sack, but negated both with illegal hits.

3DownNation named Rose one of the CFL’s 100 best players last year and I stand by that assessment. He just has to play smarter.

Home sweet home

Something I missed after Winnipeg’s win over Toronto in Week 2 was that the Blue Bombers are now over .500 at IG Field.

The team won just seven of their first 30 games after the stadium opened in 2013, but have gone 27-9 at home since August 2016. After Sunday’s win, they are now 34-32 all-time at IG Field.

Milt Stegall, touchdown regal

I was digging into Andrew Harris’ career stats this week when I found something that really puts the greatness of Milt Stegall into perspective.

Harris has 80 career touchdowns, which leaves him just 54.4 percent of the way to Milt Stegall’s all-time touchdown record of 147. That’s wild.

Fred Penner’s the man

Beloved children’s entertainer Fred Penner performed the halftime show at IG Field and is still killing it at age 74.

I don’t think there’s a song lyric with which I identify more strongly than, “If I had a hundred sandwiches, I’d eat them all at once.”

Next up

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3-1) travel to Regina next week to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders (3-0) in the annual Labour Day Classic. The game has been sold out for weeks, so there should be a dynamite atmosphere at Mosaic Stadium.

Saskatchewan is 14-1 in the annual matchup since 2005 with Winnipeg’s lone victory coming in 2016 on a last-second Justin Medlock field goal. With the two teams in a tight race for the No. 1 spot in the West Division, the Blue Bombers would be doing themselves a massive favour with a win on Sunday.

O’Shea was asked after the game if he’s looking forward to Winnipeg’s annual back-to-back tilt with the Riders, but he’s not yet ready to look beyond Sunday’s win.

“I’m pretty excited about the win tonight and I think I’m going to leave it at that,” said O’Shea. “The film gets watched tomorrow morning and tonight I’m probably going to have a beer.”

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