TORONTO – Buck Pierce returned to action against the team that knocked him out of the lineup and lead the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a huge 44-32 win over the Toronto Argonauts to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Pierce’s stats were not overwhelming – passing for 200 yards on 13 of 22 – but did engineer four touchdown drives in the win. He also got help from his running backs who accounted for 278 all-purpose yards. Chad Simpson generated 136 of those on the ground and also added a touchdown.
With the win, the Bombers pull into a tie with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with 10 points but sit ahead of them in the standings by owning the season series. With Toronto’s loss, the Montreal Alouettes clinched the Eastern Division title and will host the East Final on November 18.
Both teams entered the game receiving a huge boost under centre with Pierce and Ricky Ray making their way back from injury.
The Argos entered the game with a mathematical chance of still catching Montreal for first in the East division but were concentrating more on locking up a playoff berth with three weeks left in the season.
Both quarterbacks showed some rust on their first drives, going two-and-out and surrendering a sack.
Pierce would get on track on the Bombers third possession however, leading an impressive 17-play, 89-yard drive, finished off by a 4-yard touchdown pass to DL Jason Vega who was lined up at tight end.
Ray would not have an opportunity to answer back however, as Chad Owens fumbled the ensuing kickoff which set up a short Bombers touchdown drive completed by QB Alex Brink who dove forward on short yardage for a 1-yard major as Winnipeg took an early 14-0 first quarter lead.
It was Durie’s third receiving major of the season and second in as many games.
The Bombers would continue get some of the lead back when the combination of running backs Simpson and Will Ford helped carry a 65-yard drive to set up a 32-yard Justin Palardy field goal to take a 17-7 lead. The two elusive backs combined for 50 yards on the drive.
It seemed for a while that for every shot one team took the other had an answer. The next drive it was Ray’s turn again – first finding Chad Owens down the seam for a 46-yard gain and then spotting Jason Barnes in the endzone for a 14-yard touchdown catch. It brought the Argos to within three of the Blue and Gold.
Barnes wasn’t finished there, however, hauling in an 8-yard touchdown on the Argos’ very next possession to give the Argos their first lead of the day, 21-17. The major was set up by a 37-yard reception from Ray to Maurice Mann.
Barnes has been used sparingly by the Argos but all three of his touchdown grabs this season against the Bombers, including a game-winner back in July.
Back and forth they went – with the Bombers quickly answering back with Chad Simpson taking an off-tackle carry 13 yards to cap off a 96-yard drive. The real legwork was done by Simpson’s backup, Ford however, whose 55-yard catch-and-run got the Bombers out of the shadow of their own goalpost and into scoring territory.
The Bombers would enter halftime with a 24-12 lead.
After an 88-yard first half, Simpson picked up here he left off at the start of the second half, juking and jiving his way through the Argos defence and helping set up a 45-yard Palardy field goal to give Winnipeg a 27-21 lead early in the third quarter.
On the Argonauts next possession Ray found Andre Durie for a 35-yard gain to set up a 47-yard Swayze Waters field goal attempt but the placekicker sailed it wide left and earned just a single point.
Ray, Barnes takin’ it back
Despite the loss, an old tandem from Edmonton seemed to be on the same page for Toronto as Ricky Ray found Jason Barnes three times in the endzone as a part of his 383 yards passing.
The Bombers offence was relentless, however, as Buck Pierce stood in the pocket – absorbing hits and delivering passes with spot-on precision. His accuracy helped lead a 70-yard drive on 11-plays capped off by a two-yard run by his backup Alex Brink to give the Bombers a 34-22 lead.
The Argos looked to get their first major score of the second half but the Bombers forced Owens’ second fumble of the game and recovered on their own 30 yard line.
They would make good on their next opportunity when a 50-yard drive led to a 31-yard Waters field goal to pull within nine.
Toronto continued to hang around though, primarily because of Barnes who first hauled in a 35-yard reception to set the Argos up in Bombers territory and then snagged his third touchdown of the game on a 15-yard pass from Ray. The Argos cut the lead to five.
With momentum swinging in their direction, the Argos got a huge stop from their defence and forced the Bombers to punt with just under two minutes remaining.
Ray scrimmaged from inside the Argos 15 yard line and after a quick completion to WR Spencer Watt, the pivot dropped back to pass on second down but the ball was stripped from his hands and recovered by Winnipeg defensive lineman Andre Carroll which all but sealed the win for the Bombers.
Ford would add the exlamation point with a 5-yard touchdown with nine seconds left to give the Bombers a 43-32 win.