WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Bombers got their first win of the season in front of a fired-up Canad Inns Stadium crowd on Thursday night, overcoming a 10-point second half deficit and holding the Esks to just a single point in the fourth quarter for a thrilling 23-22 win.
Alex Brink threw for 294 yards and a touchdown in his second start of the season, while Chad Simpson rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown as the Bombers begin their home slate with a strong start.
With no shortage of energy in the stadium for the Bombers’ first home game of the season, the defences fed on the excitement from the very start, with both quarterbacks failing to find any rhythym in the opening several drives.
Steven Jyles had his best game of the year in the loss, completing 16 of 30 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but in the end his fumble in the final minute of the game wound up costing the Esks in a big way, sealing the game for the Bombers.
Brink showed poise and efficiency in the early going, completing six of his first seven passes of the game, including four completions to Bombers’ slotback Cory Watson who was playing his first game back from injury.
With teams vying for valuable field position early in this one, the Bombers would get their first point when punter Mike Renaud sailed a punt 61 yards into the endzone for a single point, putting the Bombers ahead 1-0.
The Esks were slow out of the gate on offence, and it wasn’t until a minute remaining in the first quarter that they’d finally get their first first down of the game, on an 11-yard sprint up the middle for Hugh Charles.
The drive would stall however,but as Esks’ punter Burke Dales tried to punt the Bombers deep in their own territory, he’d sail the kick over the head of Demond Washington and into the endzone, resulting in a game-tying single point.
The Bombers appeared to have their pass rush back in 2011 form, with bookend defensive ends Alex Hall and Bryant Turner applying constant pressure on Jyles and chasing the Esks’ quarterback for his life on several occasions.
Jyles was able to escape getting sacked, but was never able to find timing and rhythm in the offence. Finally, well into the second quarter, the Esks’ quarterback found Nate Coehoorn for a 29-yard gain. That would set up a field goal chance for the Esks, with Shaw hitting from 45 yards out — his fourth of the season from outside 40 yards, giving Edmonton its first lead of the game, 4-1.
From there, it was the Eskimos’ defence that would begin to take over the game, frustrating the Bombers’ third-year quarterback and forcing some errant throws. Brink would go on to throw seven straight incompletions, including a pair of interceptions by Ronnie Prude and Donovan Alexander.
That led to the first touchdown of the game, as Cary Koch was able to break in behind the Bombers’ secondary and Jyles wasted no time finding him open to the endzone, giving the Esks a commanding 11-1 lead and letting the air out of Canad Inns stadium on the 25-yard touchdown play.
The Bombers would respond by driving deep into Esks territory, with Brink using his legs to extend the drive on a crucial second down play to move into field goal range. But he couldn’t find the end zone, forcing Justin Palardy on to kick a 26-yard field goal.
Jyles came back with some offence of his own, also threatening to get into the endzone and give the Esks a bigger lead heading into half time. But that drive also stalled in the red zone, setting up Shaw’s second field goal of the half, this one coming from close range.
The Bombers would get the ball back with little time left, but that was when Brink had his best sequence of the game for the Bombers. With seven seconds left and just inside the Esks’ end, the Bombers tried to run a quick play to gain yards and get in range to try a field goal.
But as nothing opened up, Brink stepped up in the pocket and fired a jump ball for Matthews. The rookie receiver made the catch, sending the Bombers into the half down by just a field goal.
That only seemed to fire the Esks’ offence up though, because on the first drive of the second half, Jyles would come back in a big way, eventually finding Fred Stamps wide open up the seam for a 47-yard touchdown pass.
It was Jyles’ second touchdown of the game, and his fourth of the season, capping off a 5-play, 75-yard drive to restore a 10-point lead.
Jyles impressive in loss
Despite the tough loss, Edmonton QB Steven Jyles had a strong showing, throwing for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the face of immense pressure all night. It was his top performance of the season.
On the ensuing drive, the Bombers got a little bit of luck as an unconventional turn of events would give them a second crack at scoring. On a drive that originally stalled just inside Esks’ territory, Renaud came in to punt from midfield.
The Esks brought pressure and blocked the kick, but after it was deflected by an Eskimo and recovered by a Bomber before the line of scrimmage, the Bombers took over possession with a fresh set of downs at the 24 yard line.
On the very next play, Simpson caught a pass from Brink and fought through several defenders, powering his way down to the five yard line. From there, the rookie CFL back punched it in on the ground for his first career CFL touchdown in just his second career start, pulling the Bombers back to within three points.
From there, the momentum seemed to keep shifting the Bombers’ way. An Edmonton penalty on the ensuing kickoff had the Esks pinned deep in their own end, and with the crowd reaching its peak in volume, Hall charged up the middle and took down Jyles at the one yard line.
But it wouldn’t stand, as Hall would be flagged on a personal foul for a high hit on Jyles. The Esks were given a brand new set of downs, but the Bombers’ defence held this time, getting Brink another chance with the offence to get his team ahead in the game.
The Bombers would be held this time, but once again the Esks took a penalty on the punt, pinning them deep in their own end for the second straight possession. This time, though, they couldn’t move out of the shadow of their own goal line, and with 12 minutes remaining, Dales would take a safety, cutting the score to 21-20 and giving the Bombers the ball back.
The Bombers would take advantage of their edge in field position with 6:04 left in the game, on a 27-yard field goal from Palardy. That gave the home team their first lead since they were ahead 1-0 midway through the second quarter, after starting the drive on their own 54 yard line.
Trailing for the first time in the while, the Esks came out firing, but stalled inside Winnipeg territory. Instead of electing to try a long field goal, Head Coach Kavis Reed sent out the punting unit to try to pin the Bombers deep and get the ball back.
Shaw’s punt went high and inside the 10, but took an unlucky bounce into the endzone, giving the Esks a point but sacrificing precious field position.
Suddenly, the game was in the hands of the Bombers’ offence, with a chance to run down the clock and preserve the team’s first win of 2012. On first down, they’d come out throwing, and Brink completed a 10-yard pass to Terrence Edwards, eventually setting up a Bombers first down. After that though, Simpson would get two straight carries, and the Esks defence held to force a punt and give Edmonton one last crack on offence.
After a too meny men penalty on the Bombers, Jyles fired to Koch on first down, but it would fall incomplete on a nice play by the defender, setting up a second and 10. On the ensuing play, Jyles faced heavy pressure up the middle, forcing an incompletion with heavy coverage in the secondary.
Then on third down, the first-year Eskimo quited a rowdy home crowd, fighting off pressure once again to find an open Coehoorn over the middle for a 19-yard picking, keeping the Eskimos alive with a minute to go.
But after a Koch first down catch on the next play, Jyles found plenty of room with his legs, moving the Esks into apparant field goal range. But before he could get to the turf, the ball came loose after it was punched out by a defender, and Jovon Johnson recovered the fumble to seal the win for the Bombers.
With the win, the Bombers improve to 1-4 on the season, putting them back in the East Division race with the Als coming to town in another week. The Esks, meanwhile, fall to 3-2, temporarily remaining in a tie for top spot in the West Division. They’ll get next weekend off as they now enter their bye week.
Before the game, there was a moment of silence in honour of the late Coach Richard Harris, who passed away one year ago today. It was an emotional setting, with several Bombers as well as many Eskimos having had ties to Harris. Another former coach, Cal Murphy, was honoured at the half, after he passed away earlier in the year.