Bombers gutting out wins early in CFL season

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They’re the defending Grey Cup champions and have a 3-1 record to start a pandemic-shortened CFL season, but you wouldn’t exactly describe the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as being dominant.

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Gutsy would be a better word.

The Bombers gutted out a win over the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday at IG Field, getting four field goals, including the game-winner with 37 seconds left, from rookie kicker Marc Liegghio, a touchdown from Andrew Harris, and a bunch of battle scars from a war in the trenches that carried on all night.

“Any time you can win in this league it’s sweet but against a great team like that, in a game like that, it’s awesome,” Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said after Winnipeg’s 18-16 victory.

“Down the stretch there we made enough plays to win the game and (Liegghio) made a huge kick for us.”

While both teams moved the ball fairly efficiently — Calgary had 393 yards and the Bombers 333 — the defences tightened up when things got closer to the end zones. There was pushing and shoving after plays and a total of 20 accepted penalties, which could partially be attributed to bad blood between the participants.

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There’s something just a little more special about coming away with a win in an intense rivalry game like that.

“It was a battle out there,” said Bombers middle linebacker Adam Bighill, who had eight tackles and a fumble recovery.

“We were scrapping for everything we could get on both sides of the football. It was a battle of field position all night. The wind was a factor and it was scrappy game. It was a West game that was important and you could see it out there … guys left it on the field.

“All three phases showed up when we needed them and that’s a key thing when it comes down to crunch time. When you need to win West games, important games, you need all three phases and I’m proud we were able to put that together.”

Collaros threw for 243 yards, Harris ran for 81 in his season debut, and the Bombers took care of the football. The time of possession was fairly even and the Bombers were impressive, defensively, in the second half, allowing just three points.

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There was some good fortune on Winnipeg’s side as well.

Liegghio actually missed from 35 yards out, with the game on the line, but the play was ruled dead because of a time-count violation against the Bombers. Given another chance, this time from 45 yards out, Liegghio booted it right down the middle to put the Bombers up 18-16.

Then Calgary got one more chance, with rookie quarterback Jake Maier moving them into decent field-goal position with two seconds left. Rene Paredes, who is one of the most accurate kickers in CFL history but struggles from outside 50 yards, came up short with his kick into the wind.

No matter how it happened, it was another W for the Bombers and the victories have all come in similar fashion — low scoring, tight, yards hard to come by, gutsy.

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“It’s an important win and I thought they stuck with it,” said Bombers coach Mike O’Shea, whose team also beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-6 and the Toronto Argonauts 20-7 at IG Field this season.

“There was no real letdown.

“It’s not the high-scoring game that pleases everybody, but it was certainly a win and a nail-biter and I thought it was exciting for the fans. That’s not a bad thing, to have some excitement. There are certainly some lessons to be learned and that’s a positive thing too. Any time you can get two points and still have lots to learn from all different angles, it will be a good chance to get better.”

At 3-1, the Bombers are sitting second in the West Division, right behind the 3-0 Saskatchewan Roughriders. The two teams meet in the annual Labour Day Classic Sunday in Regina and again in the Banjo Bowl, in Winnipeg, on Sept. 11.

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Those will be the toughest tests of the season so far, against a team that is playing very well, but the Bombers appear to be battle tested and ready to go to war with a heated rival.

They need to clean some things up. Defensively, they are still giving up a fair number of yards and Maier was able to complete all 16 of his pass attempts in the first half. He faced more pressure in the second half, but the Bombers will want to address that lack of consistency on D.

On offence, it remains a struggle to put up yards and points. It’s been decent, but far from perfect. One thing that would help would be for the receivers to haul in all of the catchable passes thrown their way. There’ve been five or six glaring drops in the last two weeks, most ending drives, and that can’t keep happening.

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“Shoot, we all make mistakes,” Collaros said. “Some are more magnified than others cause they’re easier to see to the casual observer.

“If I make a bad read, nobody watching the game knows that. But if somebody drops a pass or misses a block, it’s pretty obvious. We all make mistakes so I just say ‘Hey, we’ve just got to keep shooting. We’re gonna get opportunities to make plays so we’ve just go to keep taking them and good things are gonna come our way.’

“I love our group of guys and I’ll go and fight with those guys any day. We’re gonna continue to get better as a unit, I promise you that.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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