By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quieted many doubters Friday night in a showdown of the league’s top two teams. The Blue and Gold had their way with the previously undefeated Edmonton Eskimos, beating the West Division leaders 28-16 in front of a boisterous and sold out Canad Inns Stadium.
Even without the veteran presence of Doug Brown on the line, the Bomber defence shook off some early jitters and shut down quarterback Ricky Ray and the number-one ranked Eskimo offence.
In their first five games, Edmonton’s offence had only turned the ball over five times. Friday, Winnipeg caused five of their own, including two interceptions by defensive back Brandon Stewart.
“We got plenty of pressure tonight,” said Stewart. “The boys are coming. Our secondary — we played decent in the first half, and we stepped it up and fed off the crowd in the second half.”
The only Eskimo touchdown came on the game’s opening drive, as Ray hit Jason Barnes for a 22-yard major.
The first half story, however, was Justin Palardy’s pair of missed chip-shot field goals (22, 32) that both resulted in single points from very promising Winnipeg drives of 75 and 48 yards.
Palardy finally got on track with a 33-yarder after Winnipeg’s James Green recovered a mishandled Edmonton punt return, giving Winnipeg the ball deep in Eskimo territory.
Trailing 11-5 in the waning minutes of the second quarter, Buck Pierce avoided a sack near midfield and exploded for a 48-yard touchdown scamper, giving Winnipeg their first lead of the game, 12-11.
“I made one guy miss and was able to outrun a few guys and get in the end zone,” said Pierce.
In the final minute, Edmonton responded with a very quick seven play, 64-yard drive that was capped by a 21-yard Damon Duval field goal, making it 14-12 Eskimos after 30 minutes.
Although they put up 239 yards of first half offence, Buck and the Bomber O began rolling in the second.
On the heels of a stellar Winnipeg defensive stop, Pierce worked a three play, 61-yard drive that ended in a 29-yard Terrence Edwards touchdown catch.
“We moved the ball very well all night,” said Pierce, who finished 20-for-27 for 242 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
On Winnipeg’s next possession, rookie receiver Clarence Denmark contributed heavily to a seven play, 89-yard drive that included a 15-yard misdirection rushing play and a leaping 39-yard catch. A seven-yard play-action touchdown pass to Cory Watson made it 26-16 Winnipeg late in the third quarter.
“We were just calling the right plays and putting me in the right position to make a play,” said Denmark. “We were feeding off each other. Once somebody made a play, I wanted to make a play. Everybody wanted to make plays tonight, and we did that.”
The Bomber defence was also making plays Friday, as they held the Canadian Football League’s top-ranked offence to only 268 yards.
“We wanted to make sure they were one dimensional and stop the run. I think the rotation of different guys did a great job,” said Winnipeg head coach Paul LaPolice.
“I think we really started to get to the quarterback at the end of the game.”
That might be a bit of an understatement by the coach.
The Winnipeg defence sacked Ricky Ray four times, including twice by rookie defensive end Kenny Mainor.
The league leading Bombers (5-1) now travel to B.C. to take on the winless Lions next Saturday.