WINNIPEG — Continuity reigned supreme on Friday night, as a veteran-laden Winnipeg Blue Bombers team held on to top a Hamilton Tiger-Cats team that’s a cast of new characters 42-31.
Zach Collaros threw three first-quarter touchdowns and had 354 passing yards, while Nic Demski went over the 100-yard receiving mark in the first half, finishing with 113 yards on six catches, with a touchdown. Brady Oliveira added 122 yards on the ground and a touchdown in the win.
The Tiger-Cats were plagued by turnovers on the night, giving up the ball six times, to the delight of the 29,057 fans that packed into IG Field. They remedied that with two special teams touchdowns and a defensive score to get back into a game that seemed out of reach in the first half.
» Box Score: Bombers, Ticats by the numbers
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» Watch: Collaros starts strong with three first-quarter TDs
Mitchell didn’t find the end zone on his first official drive as a Tiger-Cat, but his team came away from it with some points. Seth Small connected on his first field goal attempt of the season, sending a 37-yard attempt through the uprights to give the Ticats a 3-0 lead, 3:20 into play.
The Bombers went through a pair of emotional drives before they’d take the lead in the game. On the ensuing drive after the Hamilton field goal, Demski fumbled away a Collaros pass, which quickly brought Mitchell and the Ticats back onto the field. On that drive, Mitchell was looking for a first down on second-and-10, when he was intercepted by Demerio Houston. The third-year defensive back tightroped the sideline to make the highlight reel play to regain possession for his team.
Desmski was able to make good for the turnover when Collaros found him six plays later for a 17-yard toss the Demski pulled in for the touchdown. Sergio Castillo‘s convert made it a 7-3 game at 8:06.
After the Ticats added a single on a Bailey Flint punt, Collaros made sure to keep the Bombers’ offence rolling. He led them on a quick four-play drive that he capped off with a 10-yard pass to Rasheed Bailey, who forced his way into the end zone, helping push Winnipeg out to a 14-4 lead.
Turnovers continued to hurt the Ticats. Running back James Butler had rushed 16 yards to the Bombers’ 41-yard line when he fumbled after being hit. Collaros made them pay in short order, finding Drew Wolitarsky to cap a five-play drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to blow the game open. Castillo’s convert came with the clock at zeroes, giving the Bombers a commanding 21-4 lead after just 15 minutes of play.
The Bombers’ momentum slowed just slightly at the five-minute mark of the second quarter when Collaros was whistled for intentional grounding. That led to a 34-yard Castillo field goal that pushed the Winnipeg lead to to 20, at 24-4.
The Ticats’ defence got something to try to build on late in the first half. The group was able to force a turnover on downs with 1:10 to play, as Tyrrell Pigrome was stuffed at the one-yard line. That aside, the Bombers went into their locker room at halftime with a lot to be happy about.
They found more to build on early in the third quarter. Mitchell was sacked at the 2:55 mark, with Bombers’ defensive lineman Willie Jefferson forcing the ball loose. It was recovered by Deatrick Nichols and that led to a 19-yard Castillo field goal, making it a 29-4 game.
Just as the TSN announce team of Dustin Nielsen and Duane Forde had said that the Tiger-Cats needed to find some kind of positive play to try to get into the game, it came to them.
Carthell Flowers-Lloyd came through on special teams to block a Jamieson Sheahan punt, with the loose ball dribbling back into the Bombers’ end zone. Omar Bayless pounced on it, getting the Ticats their first touchdown of the season. An ambitious Mitchell looked for a two-point convert, but had his pass attempt intercepted at the end zone by Houston, leaving the score at 32-10 at the midpoint of the third quarter.
After a quiet first half for receiver Tim White, Mitchell began to find his prized target in the third quarter. His 10-yard toss to White at the back of the end zone gave him his first touchdown pass as a Tiger-Cat, but came at a cost, as White left the game with an upper body injury. Small’s convert at 11:42 inched the Ticats into the game, down 32-17.
Sensing any kind of momentum building for their opponents, the Bombers worked quickly to regain control in the game. Collaros led a five-play, 46-yard drive that Brady Oliveira finished off with a three-yard handoff. Castillo was back out for the convert to close out the third quarter, helping his team to a 39-17 lead.
To their credit, the Ticats continued to fight. Veteran d-lineman Ted Laurent forced a fumble off of Collaros as he took a snap, with Hamilton newcomer Chris Edwards scooping up the ball and running it in 62 yards for the touchdown. Mitchell again was unable to get the two-point convert, but the Ticats’ special teams unit would quickly send some more help his way.
Kyle Wilson hit Bombers’ returner Janarion Grant, popping the ball high into the air as Grant was just a few strides into his attempt. The loose ball landed right in Fraser Sopik‘s hands and the Western product ran the ball back to the Bombers’ two-yard line. Butler punched it in and Mitchell promptly found Duke Williams for the two-point convert and with just under nine minutes to play, that seemingly insurmountable lead had been whittled down to eight, at 39-31.
Despite taking a few punches, the Bombers weren’t completely rattled. Facing a big test in his debut game, Castillo calmly sent a 50-yard field goal through at 10:06, pushing the Bombers’ lead back to 11.
On third-and-10 with Mitchell in need of yards, he was sacked by Celestin Haba, forcing the team’s sixth turnover of the night.
Each team will head into a meeting with their arch rivals in Week 2. The Blue Bombers will travel to Saskatchewan to face the Roughriders, while the Tiger-Cats will venture to BMO Field to face the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts in their season opener.