WINNIPEG — Nic Grigsby’s 26-yard rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter held up to be the winner, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers outlasted the Montreal Alouettes 24-16 in a heated defensive battle on Friday night in Winnipeg.
In a game that saw several lead-changes as well as the debut of Alouettes quarterback Jonathan Crompton, the Bombers came from behind on Grigsby’s late run to survive an intense defensive struggle that saw only two offensive touchdowns.
It wasn’t pretty for Drew Willy against a hard-hitting Alouettes defence, but in the end the first-year full-time starting quarterback made the most of his 14 completions for 200 yards, sustaining a number of fourth-quarter drives to lead to a 16-point final frame for the Blue and Gold.
Grigsby had a game-high 73 yards on 10 carries against a tough Montreal front-seven, while Clarence Denmark led the Bombers with 77 yards on three big catches. Running back Tyrell Sutton was the Alouettes’ best receiver, picking up 90 yards on three catches, including a 71-yard gain in the third quarter. Outside of that though the Als spread the ball around, getting at least 30 yards of receiving from five different players.
Crompton looked impressive for the Alouettes despite three interceptions, completing 18 of 29 passes for 266 yards, providing plenty of spark for the Als’ offence after Alex Brink was taken out of the game in the second quarter.
Both defences showed up as advertised to start the first quarter, as Willy and Brink struggled to move the chains out of the gate in an uneventful first quarter.
Denmark had the game’s first big offensive play, setting the Bombers up in field goal range after a 31-yard catch over the middle. But the Alouette defence tightened up, forcing a Winnipeg punt and single point to open the scoring.
The Bomber offence showed more signs of figuring out Montreal’s intricate defence late in the first, when Willy connected with Moore for a 26-yard completion on a tough second-and-14 play, marking the veteran receiver’s first catch since missing three games with an injury.
A big run stop on first down though kept the Bombers in second-and-long, before Willy was picked off by second-year safety Mike Edem to end the threat and end the first quarter with the Bombers ahead 1-0.
The Alouettes looked to change the pace in the second quarter, swapping Alex Brink out after a 5-for-7, 14-yard first-quarter effort and putting the ball in the hands of Crompton. It seemed to provide an instant spark, as the veteran hit Duron Carter for a 17-yard gain to eventually set up a Sean Whyte field goal.
On the next drive Carter had more to offer for the Als’ offence, this time breaking to the edge on an end-around and running for a 28-yard gain. The chance to score was short-lived however, as Greg Peach got to Crompton for the sack and then Whyte hit the upright on a 23-yard field goal, leaving the Alouettes empty-handed.
Winnipeg’s opportunistic defence got to Crompton after that, forcing the game’s first turnover on an interception. But on the next series the Als’ Jerald Brown forced and recovered a fumble, returning possession to Montreal.
From there the Als went to work, as Crompton went deep and connected with Brandon London for a 40-yard completion deep into Winnipeg territory.
A pass interference on Demond Washington going one-on-one with S.J. Green right after gave the Als a first down at the 12, but Crompton was tripped up on a second-down scramble leading to Whyte’s second field goal on three tries.
Entering the third quarter down 6-1, the Bombers quickly turned the tide thanks to a quick defensive stop followed by a big special teams play. Derek Jones got his hands on a Whyte punt, and as the ball rolled towards the end zone Don Unamba scooped it and scored to give the Bombers their first lead of the game, 8-6.
After another big stop on defence, Troy Stoudemire gave the Bombers another spark thanks to a 64-yard punt return – however this time it was Hajrullahu hitting the upright and leaving the Bombers without any points for their efforts.
for QB Crompton
Jonathan Crompton took over for Alex Brink after the first quarter, and provided some spark for the Alouettes offence. Was it enough to earn the start next week against Ottawa?
The Alouettes went back to work but had a promising drive cut short on a failed third-down gamble. But after a quick stop by the defence their offence went right back to work, and they quickly flipped the field. Off of play-action, Crompton hit his running back Sutton in the flat and the flashy tailback sprinted down the sideline for a 71-yard pickup.
Sutton converted a short second-down try after that, before taking a shovel-pass from Crompton inside the five. Tanner Marsh then finished the drive on a sneak from the one, giving the Alouettes their second offensive touchdown in five games and the first of this game.
With the Alouettes up 13-8 the Bombers looked to respond, as Willy found Rory Kohlert for a 23-yard gain along the sideline on the final play of the third quarter. Then to start the fourth rookie running back Grigsby used his blocks on a sweep, breaking it outside for a 15-yard gain down to the Montreal 27.
The drive resulted in a field goal by Hajrullahu, cutting the deficit to two points. Shortly after that with the ball back in the hands of Willy, the Bombers went downfield again, this time on a 37-yard catch behind coverage by Denmark to move the Bombers right back into the red zone.
Once again they’d have to settle for a field goal, but it was enough to give the Bombers the lead with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Crompton remained in his groove on the ensuing drive, first hitting the veteran Green for a 24-yard gain before again connecting with Green for 18 more yards to the Winnipeg 30. The drive fell short at the Bomber 14, leading to Whyte’s second field goal of the night and restoring the Als’ slim lead.
The Bombers went right back at it though, needing another solid drive to take the lead with time ticking down in the fourth quarter. After a big catch for a first down by Cory Watson moved the Bombers over midfield, Montreal appeared to have a stop on second down on an incomplete pass.
But Mike O’Shea threw the challenge flag, arguing that pass interference was present. The Bombers won the challenge, giving them a fresh set of downs and on the very next play Grigsby, the CFL’s rushing leader, found the seam and hit the cut back on the way to an explosive 26-yard touchdown.
That marked Grigsby’s sixth rushing touchdown of the season and Winnipeg’s first offensive touchdown of the night, putting the Bombers ahead 21-16 with two minutes left in the game.
As strong a debut as it was for Crompton, the Als offence seemingly ran out of magic after that. After a deep pass was batted down, Crompton was picked off and it was returned deep into Montreal territory. The Bombers settled for three and the Alouettes got the ball back, but off yet another deflection Crompton was picked off again.
Maurice Leggett had all three interceptions to headline a dominant performance for the Bomber defence, as the Blue and Gold snapped a two-game losing streak with the effort. They’ll travel to Regina next weekend for a date with the hated Roughriders, as they continue to battle for positioning in the West.
The Alouettes meanwhile showed plenty of promise on offence, and will look to carry that into a battle with the Ottawa REDBLACKS next weekend back home.