WINNIPEG — Well, it was worth the wait for Joey Elliott and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Making his first start since 2010, Elliott completed 33 passes for 406 yards and one touchdown, leading the Blue Bombers to a 32-25 win over the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday night.
The Bombers also received a resounding performance from its defence, most notably from Henoc Muamba and Jovon Johnson.
|Related: Hamilton at Winnipeg|
Muamba registered two forced fumbles to go along with his two tackles, while Johnson picked up one crucial fumble recovery and three tackles, to give the Bombers their second win of the season.
Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice announced earlier this week that Elliott would be getting the start, hoping that he would be able to provide the Winnipeg offence with a much needed boost.
However, before Elliott was even able to step onto the field, Tiger-Cats quarterback Henry Burris, who was appearing in his 197th CFL game, made his presence felt to the raucous crowd at Canad Inns Stadium.
Burris connected on all three of his pass attempts on Hamilton’s opening possession, ultimately finding WR Chris Williams for a 37-yard catch-and-run touchdown, giving the Ticats an early 7-0 lead.
It was an important first drive for Burris, who was hoping to follow up a less-than-stellar Week 7 outing with a strong performance on Thursday night.
On the ensuing kickoff, rookie Demond Washington gave the Bombers great field position with a 31-yard return, setting up Winnipeg’s first play from scrimmage on their own 45-yard line.
In his first drive since Week 19 of the 2010 season, Elliott connected on two of his three pass attempts for 28 yards, highlighted by a 21-yard completion to veteran receiver Terrence Edwards.
Despite leading the offence into field goal position, Elliott walked away with only a single point, thanks to a missed 49-yard field goal attempt by kicker Justin Palardy.
The always-dangerous Williams was parked in the endzone hoping to return the missed attempt, but a good coverage job by the Bombers forced him to eventually kneel in the endzone for a rouge.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Tiger-Cats embarked on their third drive of the game, and looked primed to extend their lead with a second touchdown.
However, with the ball inside the Winnipeg 15-yard line, Burris took off running following a play action to running back Chevon Walker, only to have the ball stripped from his grasp by defensive end Alex Hall as he was about to cross the plane into the endzone.
The ball was eventually recovered by Jovon Johnson.
After two strong drives to start the game, the second quarter saw Elliott begin to develop some much needed traction and chemistry with his receivers.
First, he connected with Montreal native and Concordia product Corey Watson for a 29-yard gain up the middle.
But after an incomplete pass to receiver Kito Poblah, in which he was almost intercepted, Elliott was then sacked by veteran linebacker Renauld Williams for a 10-yard loss.
The sack pushed the Bombers back to the 20-yard line, forcing them to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Palardy.
With all the talk heading into Thursday night focused on Elliott and the Winnipeg offence, the defence was quietly welcoming back a pair of important faces. Safety Ian Logan returned to action following a two-game absence, while defensive back Alex Suber made his first appearance since Week 2.
The two certainly made their presence felt throughout the opening half, with Suber registering three tackles, while Logan tallied two, including an important stop on a crucial second down play early in the second quarter.
Along with the rest of the defence, the two were able to help keep the Hamilton offence at bay throughout the majority of the half – limiting Burris to just five completions since that impressive opening drive.
Even with the Hamilton offence being put on hold thanks to some strong play by the Winnipeg defence, the Tiger-Cats special teams unit would not be stopped so easily.
After Greg Peach brought down Elliott for the team’s second sack of the half, a 35-yard punt was returned 71 yards for a touchdown by Williams, extending Hamilton’s lead to 10.
The return marked the fourth kick return for a touchdown by Williams this season.
|‘Joey! Joey! Joey!’|
Elliott had the loud crowd at Canad Inns Stadium chanting his name on Thursday night, racking up 406 passing yards in the process.
The half came to a close with Elliott leading the Bombers downfield, eventually allowing Palardy to connect on a last-second 37-yard field goal to bring the Bombers within a touchdown of the Ticats’ lead.
The third quarter got underway with Elliott completing a pair of passes to receivers Chris Matthews and Edwards, the latter of which set up an 18-yard run by Chad Simpson on a second-and-one situation.
However, even with a fresh set of downs inside the Hamilton 20-yard line, the Bombers were unable to find the endzone, once again being forced to settle for a field goal by Palardy.
Much like the late-stages of the first half, the offences were both unable to develop any chemistry and find the endzone.
However, as is often the case in these situations, the defences and special teams were looked upon to pick up the slack.
With the memory of his first half return still fresh in the minds of the Winnipeg cover unit, Williams once again took off running following a Palardy punt.
This time, however, Winnipeg was able to contain the speedy sophomore, thanks to a timely forced fumble by 2011 first-overall pick Muamba on the return.
Muamba’s big play sparked a huge momentum swing in Winnipeg’s favour, as Elliott was finally able to get over the hump and generate the offence that the Bombers desperately needed.
Elliott completed three consecutive passes for a combined 73 yards, with Matthews hauling in a deep 40-yard pass.
One play later, Simpson punched in his second touchdown of the season, galloping untouched into the endzone from five yards out.
But the push by the Bombers did not stop there.
On Hamilton’s next possession, Burris fumbled while on the run once again, with Muamba stripping the ball for his second forced turnover of the game.
Taking over possession on Hamilton’s 50-yard line, Elliott continued his strong play with a 29-yard strike to Edwards.
After three-straight runs by Simpson brought the drive just outside the Hamilton 11-yard line, Elliott brought the fans to their feet, finding Matthews for a 12-yard score.
The major gave the Bombers their biggest lead of the season.
However, Winnipeg’s lead was short-lived, as Burris connected with Williams for his third touchdown of the game, an 84-yard catch-and-run that silenced the crowd in Winnipeg. The Ticats would tie the game on the ensuing two-point conversion, with Burris finding Aaron Kelly for a pass in the endzone.
Despite the counter-punch by the Ticats, Elliott would respond with a hook of his own, as he instantly found Matthews for a 39-yard gain to bring the Bombers into Hamilton territory.
The drive continued with Simpson taking off for another big gain, this time busting his way through the trenches for a 20-yard run. However, the CFL rookie would come up limping after the play and was forced to the sidelines.
Three plays later, the Bombers would reclaim the lead, with Simpson’s replacement Will Ford, punching it in from four yards out for a seven-point lead with 1:25 remaining in the final frame.
The Tiger-Cats took over possession on their own 42-yard line, hoping to quickly find the endzone to tie the game.
However, Burris was unable to connect with his receivers, giving the Bombers possession as well as a 32-25 win.