Bombers hang on to beat Argos despite 100-yard game by Andrew Harris (& 12 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: CFL

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts by a score of 23-22 at BMO Field on Monday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Familiar foe

Andrew Harris played against his former team for the first time on Monday night and looked as good as ever, recording 22 carries for 111 yards and one reception for 13 yards. The 35-year-old hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down in his twelfth CFL season and now ranks second in the league with 225 rushing yards through three games.

The five-foot-ten, 216-pound ball carrier remains capable of spinning off tackles, bouncing runs outside, and fighting for extra yardage. Frankly, he’s still fun to watch.

Winnipeg’s once-dominant running game has slowed to a crawl through four games this season. Brady Oliveira rushed seven times for 28 yards on Monday, while Johnny Augustine recorded one carry for a one-yard loss. Neither player has come close to rushing for 100 yards in a game this season with Oliveira topping out at 56 yards against Hamilton and Augustine topping out at 43 yards against Ottawa.

Toronto’s offensive line was built almost entirely through free agency with Trevon Tate, Philip Blake, Justin Lawrence, and Dariusz Bladek coming by way of other CFL teams. That’s not a criticism — Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick signed with Winnipeg via free agency — but it illustrates how it’s somewhat of a makeshift unit.

You wouldn’t know from Monday’s game which team’s offensive line dominated the rest of the league last year. Modern analytics tell us that running backs don’t really matter — running the ball is all about the scheme and the quality of your offensive line. Andrew Harris’ departure to Toronto seems to indicate otherwise, at least in the early goings of this season.

Winnipeg used newcomer Greg McCrae to fill Nic Demski’s hybrid role in the offence and he finished the game with three carries for 18 yards and three receptions for minus-five yards. The 24-year-old was a standout running back at the University of Central Florida and I’m curious to see if he’ll get more work in the backfield as the season progresses.

Boris boots wide

Veteran kicker Boris Bede missed the convert following Toronto’s last-minute touchdown, allowing Winnipeg to remain up 23-22 with 25 seconds remaining on the clock. It was a shocking finish to a game that would have been even more entertaining had it gone to overtime.

This is easy for me to say — my job doesn’t depend on my team winning games — but Argonauts’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie shouldn’t have decided on a one-point convert. His team had all the momentum coming off a touchdown drive and Winnipeg’s defence was tired. Play to win and go for two.

Questionable call

Demerio Houston appeared to intercept an underthrown pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson early in the third quarter when he spun to the turf near the goal line alongside Brandon Banks. The receiver pulled the ball away from Houston as he landed and the officials ruled that Banks had caught the ball, resulting in a touchdown.

The CFL reviews all scoring plays and the ruling was upheld following a brief review. If you ask me, this was the wrong call.

According to the league’s rulebook, a player who catches a pass in midair must maintain possession of the football when their “feet or other part of the body hits the ground, with or without contact by any opponent.” The replay shows that both of Houston’s feet were down after making the catch, though he appeared to lose control as his body struck the ground.

As such, it’s understandable that Houston wasn’t ruled down by contact. The officials didn’t believe he had control of the ball as he landed on the turf, but that doesn’t mean that the play needed to be ruled a touchdown.

Banks stole the ball away from Houston and made a circus catch involving his legs. It’s impossible to know for sure on the replay, but it appeared as though the tip of the football touched the ground as he held it between his knees. I understand the play not being ruled an interception, but I remain unconvinced that it should have been ruled a touchdown.

In fairness to the Argos, the officials spotted the ball poorly in the second quarter when Andrew Harris was ruled short on third down. Toronto should have been awarded a first down deep in Winnipeg territory but instead were charged with a turnover on downs.

Schoen shines

Dalton Schoen continues to be quietly productive in Winnipeg’s receiving corps and made a team-leading five receptions for 73 yards on Monday. He’s currently on pace for 59 catches for 972 yards and five touchdowns this year, which would be pretty remarkable for his first season as a professional.

It’s probably too early to start thinking about year-end awards but Schoen has to be an early front-runner to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie. His biggest source of competition could be Canadian quarterback Tre Ford, who started in Edmonton’s first win of the season over Hamilton on Friday.

BMO blues

Winnipeg only lost one meaningful game all of last season and it took place at BMO Field in Week 3 when Nick Arbuckle made his first start as a member of the Argos. The final score was 30-23, though it flattered the visitors as the Blue Bombers were badly outplayed. Winnipeg also lost at BMO Field in 2019 after blowing a 20-point first-half lead.

Winst-on top

Winston Rose had an excellent game coming back from a foot injury, recording his first interception of the year and returning it 46 yards for a touchdown. You couldn’t ask for a better early confidence-builder after he struggled in back-to-back outings against Ottawa to start the season.

Rose was also the defender who struck Brandon Banks late in the third quarter, causing a fumble that Malcolm Thompson recovered. Not only did the forced fumble take points off the board — Banks caught the ball at Winnipeg’s four-yard line — but it led to a field goal following a big return and an eight-play, 49-yard drive.

Missed dropportunity

It’s safe to say that Caledon, Ont. native Cameron Lawson will never forget Monday’s game for what could have been.

Donald Rutledge Jr. deflected McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s pass at the line of scrimmage midway through the fourth quarter and it popped up in the air directly towards Lawson. He allowed the pass to fall between his arms and his chest, leaving him unable to take advantage of the clear route to the end zone in front of him.

284-pound defensive tackles don’t get many opportunities to touch the football, much less score touchdowns. Lawson, who was acquired via trade from the Montreal Alouettes in May, missed a golden opportunity to do both against his hometown Argonauts.

On the Marc

Marc Liegghio had another strong game, making all three of his field goal attempts and averaging 38.6 net yards over seven punts. Kicking used to be a hot-button issue in Winnipeg but Liegghio is quickly making fans forget about the team’s previous woes. He’s now a perfect 10-for-10 this season on field goals.

Glass half empty

Winnipeg released defensive back Tyquwan Glass this week, which was somewhat of a surprise given that he started Winnipeg’s first three games at field-side cornerback. Demerio Houston and Winston Rose have secured the two starting jobs and it appears the club is comfortable with Canadian rookie Tyrell Ford serving as their primary backup.

Glass was only set to make $75,000 in 2022, so his salary wasn’t a factor in the club’s decision to release him. If Winnipeg needed to create cap space they would have released Rose, who makes $125,000.

Trade bait

Are we sure that Andrew Harris has played his last game in Winnipeg?

The veteran’s contract with Toronto was front-loaded with a $40,000 signing bonus. If the trade deadline is approaching and the Argos are out of playoff contention, the Blue Bombers should make a trade for him.

It wouldn’t take a lot to get him from Toronto and he’s playing at a higher level than Brady Oliveira or Johnny Augustine.

Bench brawl

Toronto appeared to have tension brewing between a handful of players along the bench, including offensive lineman Philip Blake, receiver Brandon Banks, and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. General manager Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons was seen on the sidelines shortly after the altercation took place.

Walking wounded

Weak-side linebacker Kyrie Wilson left the game late in the second quarter with what appeared to be an injury to his left leg. He was replaced by Malik Clements, who finished the game with six defensive tackles, one special teams tackle, and one sack. Clements left the game briefly and appeared to be favouring his forearm/wrist but quickly returned.

Greg Ellingson also left the game momentarily due to injury but returned to finish the contest with three receptions for 50 yards. His 19-yard catch late in the fourth quarter was huge as it allowed Winnipeg to continue its late drive that ended in a 32-yard field goal from Marc Liegghio.

Next up

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (4-0) are scheduled to visit the B.C. Lions (3-0) on Saturday in what will be their toughest test so far this season. Not only has B.C. played brilliantly over three games, but the Blue Bombers will have to go on the road and play on just four days of rest. The circumstances couldn’t be much tougher.