No place like home: Winnipeg Blue Bombers top Hamilton in season opener

WINNIPEG — After falling behind early in the first quarter, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers took the lead and never relinquished it on their way to winning their home opener on Thursday night.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats scored on their first possession of the evening but after that, Winnipeg’s defence did the rest of the work, keeping Jeremiah Masoli and co. in check for the rest of the contest, on their way to a 19-6 victory.

Kenny Lawler was the star of the show for the Bombers after he scored two touchdowns, while running back Brady Oliveira rushed for 126 yards. Willie Jefferson continued to show why he won the 2019 Most Outstanding Defensive Player award, notching an interception in the victory.

Zach Collaros connected on 18 of 28 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while Masoli passed for 242 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Jaelon Acklin scored the lone touchdown for the Tiger-Cats to go along with 98 receiving yards. Brandon Banks hauled in 73 yards on seven catches.

» Through the Lens: Tiger-Cats at Bombers

Ahead of the first game of the 2021 season, the Bombers unveiled their 2019 championship banner in front of an excited crowd at IG Field, who were all on their feet and thrilled to welcome the defending Grey Cup champions back to Winnipeg.

When the home team hit the field for their first series of the contest, Oliveira, who started at running back in place of Andrew Harris, took the handoff from Zach Collaros for a three-yard gain. Winnipeg’s pivot then attempted a long pass intended for Lawler but it was incomplete and the home team had their first two-and-out of the evening.

Masoli and the Tiger-Cats took to the field for their first series of the night and made quick work of the Bombers defence. Running back Sean Thomas-Erlington scrambled for a two-yard gain on the first play followed by a pass to the 2019 MOP Brandon Banks for a nine-yard pick up and a first down.

Hamilton kept the chains moving with a couple of catches from David Ungerer and Jaelon Acklin followed by another run by Thomas-Erlington. Banks had an impressive 25-yard catch and run in the series but it was Acklin who finished things off with a score.

Masoli eyed Acklin in the end zone, who hauled in the Tabbies first points of the contest and the first touchdown of the 2021 season. Hamilton was unsuccessful on their two-point conversion attempt and took a 6-0 lead early in the first.

The Bombers had their first first down of the contest on their third series, thanks to a six-yard catch from Nic Demski, as they started to move the chains down the field and eventually would score their opening touchdown of the game.

On the way down the field, Collaros did what he does best and scrambled out of the pocket to find Demski for a 49-yard gain. A few plays later, the Bombers pivot had plenty of time to find Lawler in the end zone for a 25-yard major score. With the completed point after, Winnipeg took a 7-6 lead late in the first quarter.

Hamilton began the second quarter with the ball in their hands and appeared to be moving down the field, but it was Willie Jefferson who had the last laugh, picking off the Ticats’ pivot for his first interception of the year. However, Collaros and co. weren’t able to cash in on the turnover.

As the end of the second quarter was coming to a close, Lawler and Collaros continued their connection. Lawler hauled in his second touchdown of the night, as he fought through coverage from Ticats DB Jumal Rolle. The 11-play drive that was capped by the 28-yard score, along with the completed convert, gave the Bombers a 14-6 lead.

Masoli and co. had 1:19 to try for an answer before halftime, but was held to a two and out. That gave Winnipeg one more chance with the ball with just 30 seconds left on the clock but they were unsuccessful and the teams headed to the locker room.

The start of the second half lacked the fireworks that the first two quarters provided to fans, as both teams were unable to sustain drives long enough to get into field goal or touchdown range. As things went along, the Bombers added two more points to their score, the first points following the midway break, after a safety and held a 16-6 lead.

Hamilton’s offence was struggling for most of the third quarter and to cap things off, with about a minute left in the frame, Banks fumbled the football and the Bombers recovered but Collaros and his offence were unable to take advantage of the turnover.

Winnipeg added to their lead midway through the fourth quarter as Tyler Crapigna connected on his 15-yard attempt and the Bombers held a 19-6 lead.

With just a few minutes left in the contest, the Ticats were trying everything to move down the field and get on the board but Masoli tossed his second interception of the night, sealing the deal for the Bombers.

Next up for the Ticats is a meeting with the Riders in Saskatchewan next Saturday while the Bombers host the Toronto Argonauts next Friday night.

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