By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — It all came down to a 37-yard field goal attempt in the waning seconds to decide the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ final preseason game on Wednesday night, and 28,300 fans at Canad Inns Stadium left disheartened as rookie kicker Eric Wilbur’s attempt went wide left, giving the Hamilton Tiger-Cats a 26-25 exhibition victory.
“We certainly have a lot of work to do to get better,” said head coach Paul LaPolice following the game. “I thought they fought back, and it was nice that they put us in a position to win the game at the end.”
The Ti-Cats struck early, scoring on the game’s opening drive as quarterback Henry Burris capped a nine play, 81-yard series that lasted well over four minutes with a 12-yard scamper.
Hamilton put together another solid 11-play drive late in the first, but they settled for a field goal to lead 10-0 after 15-minutes.
Winnipeg finally puts some points up nearing the midway point of the second quarter, when quarterback Buck Pierce scrambled and found a wide open Kito Poblah for a 57-yard gain that put them on the Hamilton one-yard line. From there, Bombers’ short yardage pivot Alex Brink punched it in to make it 10-7 following the convert.
The Hamilton offence continued to roll in the second quarter, taking advantage of continued offside penalties by the Winnipeg defence. The Ti-Cats put up two more field goals, capping drives of 65 and 79 yards to lead 16-8 at the half.
“A couple of times we were out of position, and when you face a veteran quarterback and you’re not in the right spot that’s going to happen,” added LaPolice. “We have to clean some stuff up. We had a bunch of penalties that gave them a boatload of yards.”
In total, Winnipeg committed 16 infractions for 108 yards.
Pierce played the entire first half, going 5-for-15 for 154 yards and no touchdowns.
Enter apparent No. 2 pivot Alex Brink to start the second half. The 27-year-old looked better than Pierce in many facets and put up better numbers, going 6-for-10 for 89 yards, tossing a 14-yard TD strike to Doug Pierce to cap a 6-play, 70-yard third quarter drive to make it 23-15 Ti-Cats.
“Doug is a big target,” said Brink of the 6-foot-6 rookie wide out. “He provides a good option for us. Late in the game he was there for slants with Joey (Elliott). For me he had a great release on his fade route in the end zone.”
The slightly hobbled Joey Elliott did come into the game to quarterback the last half of the fourth, and he took advantage of his time going 6-for-9 for 90 yards in two quick drives, the first capped by a 30-yard touchdown toss to Kurt Adams to make it 26-24 after a failed two-point conversion.
The second drive ended with Wilbur’s 37-yard miss going through the end zone for a single.
“What I told the players in the room, I told them, nobody should be ashamed,” added LaPolice. “This is a talented young group of players… so we have some tough decisions to make.”
The team is expected to cut its roster down to 46 plus injured players over the next couple of days.