By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Janarion Grant will have a special place in Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ history, but he viewed his notable accomplishment on Thursday as a special-teams’ effort.
Grant returned a pair of punts for touchdowns of 76 and 83 yards in his CFL debut to help give the Bombers sole possession of first place in the West Division with a 26-24 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.
It was only the eighth time in CFL history a player has scored two touchdowns in a game on punt returns, and the first for a Bombers player.
“Really, it was my teammates,” Grant said. “They made the hole for me and I just did the rest. I’m just thankful for them to be able to block for me so I can get to the end zone.”
Montreal’s Keith Stokes was the last to record a pair of punt-return TDs in 2002. No one has recorded three.
The Bombers ended a two-game losing skid and bumped their record to 6-2 in front of 25,354 fans at IG Field. Calgary (5-3) had a three-game win streak end.
Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols described the victory as “humongous.”
“I can’t even tell you how different 6-2 looks than 5-3,” Nichols said. “To beat a team that we play three times this year, we have a back-to-back to end the season with them, it could come down to where the season series is a big difference.”
Winnipeg has won seven straight home games dating back to last season, making it the longest home streak since a seven-gamer in the 2002 and ’03 seasons.
The Stampeders made it a close contest in the final minutes of the game when quarterback Nick Arbuckle connected with Eric Rogers for an 11-yard touchdown with 2:24 remaining. Rene Paredes was good on the convert to squeeze Winnipeg’s lead to 26-24.
However, Arbuckle had a pass tip off the fingers of his player into the hands of Winnipeg defensive back Winston Rose with 1:24 to go. Winnipeg moved the ball and ran out the clock.
Winnipeg kicker Justin Medlock made field goals from 27, 23, 55 and 10 yards, plus two converts.
Arbuckle ran in a pair of TD from 13 and one yards. Paredes booted a 47-yard field goal and made a pair of converts.
Nichols completed 18 of 22 pass attempts for 177 yards with no TDs and no interceptions. Arbuckle was 22-of-35 for 260 yards with one TD and two picks.
One of Arbuckle’s interceptions was an end zone steal by Bombers defensive back Marcus Sayles with six seconds left in the first half and Winnipeg ahead 20-14.
“When you lose by two, that turnover at the end of the half weighs heavily on you,” Arbuckle said.
Winnipeg led 10-7 after the first quarter, 20-14 at halftime and 23-14 after three quarters.
Calgary running back Romar Morris left the game in the second quarter after being tackled by Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill.
Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said it looks like he tore the Achilles tendon in his left leg. In last year’s West Division final, Morris tore the Achilles in his right leg.
Calgary has now allowed two kick returns for touchdowns in two games this season.
“It’s very disappointing,” Dickenson said. “You can see them develop… We’ve got to get some people that take some pride in covering kicks and make sure that we’re getting the job done.”
Grant got into the Winnipeg lineup after an injury and inconsistent play by other Winnipeg returners.
The 25-year-old Florida native recalled have a punt return and a kick return for touchdowns in one 2015 college game when his Rutgers University squad played Arkansas.
Grant used a burst of speed to score the 76-yard punt return for a TD at 6:50 of the first quarter, boosting Winnipeg’s lead to 10-0 after an earlier Medlock field goal.
Arbuckle ran in a 13-yard TD at 10:56 of the first, followed by a one-yard run for the major at 2:36 of the second quarter that gave Calgary a 14-10 lead. Sayles was called for pass interference in the end zone before the scoring plunge.
Grant recorded his 83-yard punt return for a TD at 13:22 of the second to make it 20-14. It marked the 16th kick return taken back for a TD in the league this season.
After a Grant fumble on a punt, the Stamps recovered at Winnipeg’s 22-yard line, but Sayles made the interception in the end zone.
Medlock booted a 55-yard field goal at 3:27 of the third quarter, Paredes nailed a 47-yarder at 3:12 of the fourth quarter and Medlock kicked a 10-yarder at 8:54 after Terry Williams fumbled a punt for Calgary and lost the ball.