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MONTREAL — The legend of Drew Willy continues to grow in Winnipeg.
Down five with 28 seconds remaining, Willy hooked up with Julian Feoli-Gudino for a 17-yard touchdown to give the Blue Bombers a thrilling 34-33 victory over the Alouettes on Friday Night Football.
Willy was good on 24 of his 38 passes for 256 yards and the lone strike. Seven of those completions found the hands of Nick Moore, who registered 84 receiving yards, his second best total of the year.
The matchup marked the first of two between the two teams. They’ll meet again in Week 9, one week ahead of Labour Day.
The Blue Bombers won the pre-game coin toss, and opted to receive to start the game. As a result, the surprising Willy-led offence took to the field looking to establish a rhythm, and take a noisy Montreal crowd out of the contest early.
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Thanks to a 51-yard return on the opening kickoff by rookie Paris Cotton, the Bombers started their first possession of the game with excellent field position.
Scrimmaging from Montreal’s 31-yard line, Willy, along with rookie tailback Nic Grigsby, carried the drive inside the Alouettes’ 10-yard line.
However, the drive would eventually stall, forcing the Bombers to settle for a 16-yard field goal by kicker Lirim Hajrullahu.
The points marked the second time in three outings the Bombers have scored on their opening possession of the game, with the other coming by-way of a 27-yard touchdown by Aaron Kelly in Week 1 against Toronto.
Not to be outdone, the highly maligned Alouettes offence took to the field looking to establish some tempo of their own.
Smith, who entered Week 3 as the only starting QB to not have a touchdown pass under his belt, immediately went to work on erasing the goose egg from his stats line.
And he would do exactly that, and in incredibly fine fashion, finding receiver Chad Johnson 46 yards downfield for a touchdown.
The score was Johnson’s first of his CFL career, and only his third reception, having collected two in Week 1, and then none in Week 2 against BC.
However, Montreal’s lead was short-lived, mostly as a result of some quick thinking by head coach Mike O’Shea.
With the ball on the home team’s 17-yard line, Willy slung an incomplete pass towards receiver Clarence Denmark. But O’Shea quickly contested that Denmark was interfered with by Geoff Tisdale, and challenged the ruling on the field.
After a review by the CFL Command Centre, it was deemed that Denmark was in fact interfered with, giving the Bombers a fresh set of downs on Montreal’s one-yard line. The penalty was the most costly of the seven committed by the Als in the first quarter, forcing them to give up 78 yards in the process.
One play later, backup QB Robert Marve plunged into the endzone to give the visitors a 10-7 lead.
The back-and-forth action continued instantaneously, with Smith again going deep on the Als’ next drive.
With 1:25 left in the first quarter, Smith connected with Brandon London for a pretty 48-yard completion. The catch set Montreal up inside Winnipeg’s 20-yard line, allowing Sean Whyte to split the uprights from 25 yards out three plays later to even the score at 10 apiece.
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Chad Johnson hauled in a 46-yard strike from Troy Smith in the endzone to score his first career CFL touchdown on Friday night.
The second quarter was relatively quiet, that is until both defences came up with clutch plays, one of which resulted in a touchdown.
First, the Alouettes front held strong on a third-and-one situation that saw linebacker Chip Cox stuff Marve for a loss of one-yard.
But on Montreal’s first play after taking over on Winnipeg’s 32-yard line, Smith was hit just prior to throwing, resulting in the ball falling loose to the turf, and being scooped up by defensive back Desia Dunn, who returned it untouched for six points.
The extra point was blocked by DT Alan-Michael Cash, keeping the Als within six of the Bombers’ lead.
Prior to the conclusion of the first half, the two teams would exchange field goals, giving the Bombers a 19-13 lead into the break.
Once the second half got underway, the Als promptly went to work on reclaiming the lead. Taking over from their own 45-yard line, the Als made quick work of Winnipeg’s stingy defence, as Smith connected with speedy receiver Kenny Stafford for a 49-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
But the never-say-die Bombers refused to go down without a fight. Willy, who had been relatively quiet by his standards, hooked up with Moore for a stellar 49-yard gain that saw the veteran receiver layout to make the grab.
The catch ultimately set up Hajrullahu for a 27-yard field goal that gave Winnipeg a 22-20 lead.
However, the Als would answer right back, courtesy of a 37-yard field goal by Whyte.
Montreal extended their lead to eight, thanks to a six-yard touchdown strike from Smith to Green. The score was Green’s first of the season, and 35th of his career.
With 8:14 left in the fourth quarter, the Bombers defence stepped up in massive fashion, as DB Chris Randle picked off Smith and returned it 28 yards to the house. The Bombers failed on a two-point conversion attempt, leaving them behind Montreal by two points.
Following the three-minute warning, the Alouettes punted deep into Winnipeg territory, hoping their defence would stand tall and preserve their slim two-point lead. However, it was the special teams unit that came up in the clutch, as Dominique Ellis stripped Demond Washington of the ball, with the Als smothering the loose pigskin to regain possession.
The turnover was a costly one for the Bombers, as Whyte continued his perfect night, booting a three-pointer from 22 yards out to give Montreal a five-point lead.
But with less than a minute remaining in the game, and the game seemingly over for the Bombers, Willy orchestrated a clutch 10-play, 65-yard drive that saw the young gunslinger hook up with Feoli-Gudino for a touchdown with exactly 28 seconds left. The Bombers failed once again in the ensuing two-point conversion, giving them a slim one-point lead.
The Als had a chance to equal the score with one second remaining, but opted to try for the hail mary instead of punting for the single. Smith attempted to connect with Dave Stala, but the ball fell incomplete, giving Winnipeg their third-straight win to start the season.
Next week, the Alouettes will travel west to take on the BC Lions at BC Place, while the Blue Bombers will return home to take on Chris Jones’ Edmonton Eskimos.