Winnipeg Blue Bombers down Calgary Stampeders, clinch playoff spot

WINNIPEG — A monumental performance from quarterback Matt Nichols combined with strong defensive play to lead the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 29-21 victory over the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night.

Nichols completed 24 of 33 passes for 358 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win, which cemented Winnipeg’s place in the Shaw Road to the Grey Cup playoffs.

Two completions of 50 yards or more — including one to Darvin Adams, who finished the night with 126 receiving yards — were key moments in the win for the Bombers.

It was a night of firsts for both quarterbacks, as Nichols earned his first win in nine tries against the Stampeders and Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell lost a third-straight game for the first time in his CFL career.

MATT NICHOLS THREW A PAIR OF TOUCHDOWNS — BOTH 50 OR MORE YARDS — IN A KEY WIN FOR THE BLUE BOMBERS ON FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. (CANADIAN PRESS PHOTO)

MATT NICHOLS THREW A PAIR OF TOUCHDOWNS — BOTH 50 OR MORE YARDS — IN A KEY WIN FOR THE BLUE BOMBERS ON FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. (CANADIAN PRESS PHOTO)

The Stamps came out firing early with an electric Romar Morris burst on the opening kickoff; the UNC product ripped off a 45-yard return, setting the visitors offence up at the Winnipeg 50-yard line.

Four plays later, Calgary kicker Rene Paredes opened the scoring with a 43-yard field goal.

With both offences stalling, the lone highlight of the first quarter was Winnipeg’s Weston Dressler breaking the 10,000-yard receiving mark on an 11-yard pickup.

The visitors drove down inside the Winnipeg 15-yard line later in the quarter, only for receiver Chris Matthews to fumble and turn the ball over at the Bombers six-yard line.

A strong drive the length of the field — largely on the ground — then set Winnipeg’s offence up in the Calgary red zone, but Matt Nichols and co. were forced to settle for a 13-yard Justin Medlock field goal.

Mitchell and the Stamps responded in a big way, with a highlight-reel 65-yard connection to Matthewsmarching them down near the goal line; two plays later, short-yardage quarterback Nick Arbuckle plunged into the end zone for a touchdown. Calgary’s subsequent two-point convert attempt was dropped by William Langlais, and the score stood at 9-3.

The Stampeders gained further momentum on the ensuing kickoff, as Bombers receiver Nic Demskifumbled the return; Folarin Orimolade came up with the loose ball, and Calgary took over at the Winnipeg 24-yard line.

Two plays later, another Paredes field goal extended the lead to nine points.

The Bombers shaved their deficit back down to a single score late in the second quarter, with Medlock hitting a 35-yard field goal to make it a 12-6 ballgame — which it would stay into the half.

Nichols then went to work early in the third quarter, unloading a 50-yard bomb of a touchdown pass to an uncovered Darvin Adams; Medlock’s convert subsequently gave the hosts their first lead — 13-12 — of the evening.

A heavy fog rolled in during the third quarter, but did not seem to impact the flow of the game.

Calgary confidently marched back down the field and responded with a major on a seven-play, 77-yard drive; after a pair of goal-line stuffs from the Bombers defence on Arbuckle, Mitchell drew back in and chucked a touchdown pass to Markeith Ambles. The Stamps’ two-point convert attempt then fell incomplete, and the lead stood at 18-13.

That scoreline lasted all of three plays, as Nichols found Drew Wolitarsky for a eye-catching 60-yard touchdown; the Winnipeg pivot was sacked on the ensuing two-point convert attempt, but the Bombers had regained a 19-18 lead regardless.

Momentum swung further in the hosts’ direction on the following possession, when Calgary running back Don Jackson fumbled a catch-and-run deep in his own territory; three plays later, Chris Streveler zipped into the end zone from short range to extend Winnipeg’s lead. Medlock’s convert kick made it an eight-point game.

The Bombers added to their lead with another Medlock boot — a 13-yard field goal — on their next possession, pushing the lead to 29-18.

Calgary made some noise late in the night, after coordinator DeVone Claybrooks’s defence came up with a 3rd-and-1 stop at Winnipeg’s own 28-yard line; three plays later, Mitchell appeared to find Eric Rogers on the goal line with a pass. Upon review, it was ruled an incomplete pass and turnover on downs — a death knell in the comeback attempt.

A Paredes field goal with three seconds left polished off the night’s scoring.

Jovan Santos-Knox tallied a game-high eight tackles, and both he and Adam Bighill forced Stampeder fumbles in the win for Winnipeg.

The Bombers clinched a spot in the playoffs with the victory, moving to 10-7 in the process; Mike O’Shea’s squad will finish up their regular-season schedule with a trip to Edmonton next Saturday (4 p.m. ET).

The defeat was Calgary’s third in a row, and dropped the Stamps to 12-5; it also keeps the West Division regular-season crown up for grabs for at least one more day. Dave Dickenson’s team faces a trip to BC for a date with the red-hot Lions next Saturday (10 p.m. ET).

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