VANCOUVER — Backed by a dominant defensive performance and five field goals from Lirim Hajrullahu, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers took down the red-hot BC Lions 23-6 on Friday night at BC Place.
Clarence Denmark scored the game’s only touchdown on a 37-yard catch-and-run, while Hajrullahu provided the rest of the offence as the Bomber defence feasted on the Lions quarterbacks to the tune of six sacks and three turnovers.
It was the perfect response for a team looking to respond to its first loss of the season last weekend, as the Bombers were in control from start to finish seemingly cementing their status as one of the CFL’s elite teams. For the Lions it was a disappointing result, on a night the team honoured all-time CFL receiving leader Geroy Simon by retiring his number 81.
Drew Willy threw for 250 yards on 18-26 for the Bombers with one touchdown and an interception, while former Lion Nick Moore had a game-high 99 yards on seven catches. Nic Grigsby meanwhile had a tough time against a physical Lions defence, accumulating just 19 yards on 15 rushing attempts.
Kevin Glenn may have had it the toughest however, as he completed 18 of 31 passes for 232 yards and a pair of interception in the face of intense pressure from the Bombers’ defensive line all night.
After opening with seven straight two-and-outs last weekend against Edmonton, this game started similarly for the Bombers as the teams swapped two-and-outs early in the first quarter. But on their second possession the Blue and Gold got it going, as Willy hit Moore on a hitch screen to move the offence up to midfield.
A Grigsby first down put the Bombers in field goal range, and they’d wind up settling on a three-pointer from Hajrullahu to take the early lead. The rookie kicker added three more shortly after, as the Lions continued to struggle to move the ball against the Bombers’ Gary Etcheverry-led defence.
Near the end of the first quarter the Lions threated to finally get on the board, but an interception by Maurice Leggett put the Bombers on the assault again as they’d look to add to their lead. A stingy Lion defence tightened up however, and the Bombers were again forced to settle for three points and a 9-0 lead just inside the second quarter.
The Lions added a Paul McCallum chip shot to make it a one-score game , then as the Bombers moved deep into BC territory the Lions appeared to catch a bit of a break and a possible momentum swing when they snuffed out a third-down gamble to take over possession.
Glenn then hooked up with Courtney Taylor for a 27-yard catch and run to put the Lions in field goal range, but the clock was their enemy at the end of the half as McCallum was forced back out on the field to cut the deficit to 9-6 heading into halftime.
The Lions seemed to be figuring out Winnipeg’s defence to start the third quarter, as Glenn moved the offence back into Bomber territory thanks to a timely completion on second and long to Emmanuel Arceneaux. But again the drive ended prematurely, as Glenn forced the issue and was picked off by linebacker Ejiro Kuale, ending the threat.
Career night for the rookie kicker
Lirim Hajrullahu hit all five field goal attempts, including a career-high 51-yarder, to provide most of the Bombers’ scoring in their win over the Lions on Friday night.
Willy responded right after when he found fullback Carl Fitzgerald on a route out of the backfield for a 38-yard gain, but again the Lions defence tightened up. Instead of punting the Bombers went with the strong leg of Hajrullahu, who connected from 51 for his longest career field goal to add to the lead.
Lions head coach Mike Benevides, looking for a response from his offence, switched to backup quarterback John Beck for a couple of possessions. But Beck was sacked on his first possession, then on the second try after he completed a pass to Ernest Jackson over the middle, the veteran receiver had the ball stripped by linebacker Teague Sherman.
The Lions lost possession and that put an end to Beck’s night, as Glenn returned to the game.
In the meantime the Bombers opened the game up finally. As they loomed closer to scoring, Denmark became the game-breaker after he caught a short hitch screen on first down, then found a gaping seam and hit it hard on the way to a 37-yard touchdown.
Winnipeg added another field goal, this time a 49-yarder from Hajrullahu to make it 23-6 for the Bombers heading into the fourth quarter. That rounded out the scoring however, as Glenn and the Lions never could figure out the Bombers’ dominant defence.
The win marks the Bombers’ fourth in five games this season, and their perfect road record remains in tact as they move into a tie with the Edmonton Eskimos for secondin the West Division. They’ll pay a visit to Hamilton for a meeting with the Tiger-Cats next Thursday night.
The Lions meanwhile look to win their third game in four tries next weekend when they visit Calgary for a pivotal early-season West Division duel with the Stampeders.