QB Dane Evans leads Hamilton Tiger-Cats past Winnipeg Blue Bombers in battle of 1st place teams

WINNIPEG — Dane Evans passed for 359 yards and three touchdowns to lead the East-leading Hamilton Tiger-Cats to a 33-13 road win over the West-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night. Hamilton improves to an 11-3 record after handing the Bombers their first loss at home this season.

Both teams traded eight-yard touchdown passes in the first quarter, with Andrew Harris and Bralon Addison both finding the end zone. Evans was firing on all cylinders early, and the Ticats extended their first-half lead with a short field goal and a touchdown catch from Brandon Banks.

A 52-yard pass from Evans to Marcus Tucker set up a one-yard touchdown run from quarterback David Watford, and the Bombers responded with a field goal just before half-time. Evans finished the first half with 308 passing yards while completing 81 per cent of his throws.

After trading field goals in the third quarter, both defences came up with interceptions in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Justin Tuggle returned a pick 80 yards to set up Tyrell Sutton‘s first touchdown as a Ticat.

Banks reeled in all eight of his targets for 113 yards, eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark for the sixth time this season. Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence set a CFL record with 17 tackles.

Harris surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the third straight season and fifth time in his career.

The Bombers marched down the field on their opening possession with an 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive after their defence forced a quick punt. Kenny Lawler sparked the drive with a 21-yard catch, and Streveler and Harris moved the ball on the ground to set up an early touchdown. Harris capped off the drive by finding the end zone on an eight-yard catch-and-run, his fourth touchdown reception of the season.

But Hamilton responded right away, and Bralon Addison continued his solid play by stretching the field and reeling in a 44-yard pass on the Ticats’ second drive. Addison also finished off the drive, as Evans found the big-play receiver again for an eight-yard touchdown three plays later. Lirim Hajrullahu kicked the extra point to tie the game.

The Ticats continued to move the ball on their next drive, with Banks and Sutton coming up with big first down gains through the air. Nikola Kalinic nearly scored a touchdown on second and goal, but he stepped out of bounds just before reaching out for the goal line. The Ticats settled for a nine-yard field goal from Hajrullahu to grab a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.

Hamilton’s defence held quarterback Chris Streveler and the Bombers’ offence in check early on, and the Ticats capitalized once again after forcing another punt. Banks showcased his vision and speed on the ensuing drive with a huge 41-yard catch-and-run that gave the Ticats major momentum. Evans found Banks again three plays later with an accurate 10-yard touchdown strike, and Hajrullahu added the extra point to extend Hamilton’s lead to 10 points.

The Bombers were unable to answer back, and Evans continued his strong half on Hamilton’s next drive by finding Tucker deep down the field for a 52-yard gain in the final two minutes of the quarter. Tucker beat defensive back Marcus Sayles on the play and nearly scored before being ruled down at the one-yard line. The big play led to a quarterback sneak touchdown from Watford, and Hajrullahu kicked the convert to give the Ticats a 24-7 lead.

Winnipeg responded just before half-time with a 42-yard field goal from Justin Medlock that cut Hamilton’s lead down to 14 points.

The Bombers gained more ground on the Ticats with a 47-yard field goal from Medlock to start the third quarter, but Hamilton regained their 14-point lead after a 21-yard catch from Banks set up a 49-yard field goal from Hajrullahu.

Winnipeg stepped up on defence early in the fourth quarter and came up with a turnover when linebacker Adam Bighill intercepted a throw from Evans. But the ball went right back the other way when Tuggle picked off Streveler and returned the interception 80 yards into scoring range.

The turnover led to Sutton’s first touchdown as a Ticat, as the running back caught an eight-yard touchdown from Evans to extend Hamilton’s lead. Hajrullahu added the extra point to put the Tabbies up 33-13 with just over ten minutes to play.

The Bombers were driving late, but a shot towards the end zone from Streveler to Darvin Adams ended up being intercepted by defensive back Jumal Rolle.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are set to host the Edmonton Eskimos next Friday, while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will travel to take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders next Saturday in Week 17 action.

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