Winnipeg Blue Bombers spoil record setting night in Montreal, beat Alouettes in OT

MONTREAL — Clarence Denmark hauled in two touchdown passes, including one on the first drive of overtime, to lead the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 34-31 win over the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night in Montreal.

After the Als tied it up on a B.J. Cunningham touchdown, Chris Randle’s second interception of the night set up the eventual game-winning kick by Justin Medlock.

The dramatic finish had everything you could ask for in a football game, including a record-breaking performance from Nik Lewis that saw the prolific receiver pass Geroy Simon at the top of the all-time receptions list.

In the end, however, Lewis’ big night was spoiled by some more late-game heroics by the Bombers, who never once trailed on the way to their fifth straight victory.

Lewis finished with 10 catches for 88 yards on the evening to lead the Als, while Darian Durant threw for 316 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 31-of-43 passing.

For the Bombers, who move into a tie for first place in the West with the Edmonton Eskimos, Nichols completed 26 of his 38 passing attempts for 227 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Denmark had 47 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches for the Bombers.

Winnipeg DB Chris Randle grabbed 2 interceptions Photo: The Canadian Press

While the first meeting between these teams produced 81 points, the first half of Thursday’s rematch resembled little of the sort.

A 47-yard field goal by Medlock put Winnipeg up 3-0 on the game’s opening possession before the defense got involved shortly after when Durant’s pass to the boundary was picked off by veteran defensive back Randle and returned to midfield.

Nichols and the offense cashed in six plays later, when the Bomber pivot’s pass found Denmark in the end zone for the six-yard touchdown to put Winnipeg ahead 10-0.

The Alouettes’ misery appeared to have carried over from the previous week — when Durant threw for only 93 yards and the offence failed to register a single point — because on the very next possession, Durant had the ball stripped and recovered by Bombers linebacker Maurice Leggett.

But the Alouettes persevered and, eventually, fought back. After a quick two-and-out and a 19-yard Boris Bede field goal cut the deficit to 10-3, the offence struck gold near the end of the second quarter.

Durant completed six straight passes in the final minute of the first half, culminating in a 31-yard catch-and-run by George Johnson to knot things up at 10 apiece heading into halftime.

In the second half, with Lewis getting plenty of attention following a four-catch first half, the Bombers were the ones coming out flying. They fed off the momentum of a failed fake punt play by the Alouettes, getting a 44-yard catch by Adams followed by a three-yard touchdown grab by Julian Feoli-Gudino to reclaim a seven-point lead.

For the Alouettes, another long drive failed to produce a touchdown when Durant’s pass slipped through the mitts of Sam Giguere, but another chip shot by Bede — again from 19 yards out — made it a 17-13 ballgame.

If the momentum was going to turn in the Als’ favour, the perfect time would be early in the fourth quarter. The Bombers were given two chances to extend their lead thanks to an illegal contact penalty rewarded on a challenge — however, Noel Thorpe’s defense refused to snap, stopping Denmark shy of the goal line on second down to force an 11-yard Medlock field goal.

Just like they had all season, however, the Bombers continued their penchant of frustrating opponents late in football games. While the Als’ offense stumbled, Nichols and co. chewed up the clock with lengthy back-to-back drives, the latter of which producing a 47-yard field goal by Medlock to put the Bombers ahead 23-13.

Montreal WR Nik Lewis set new CFL receptions record Photo: The Canadian Press

Down two scores and needing a response, Durant provided an urgent answer. On the heels of a 26-yard run by Brandon Rutley, Durant took a shot downfield for Jackson. In single coverage, the Als’ veteran receiver got late separation and came down with the football, scoring a 38-yard touchdown and cutting the Alouettes’ deficit to a field goal.

The Als made quick work of the Bombers’ attempted response, quickly getting the ball back and going to work with 1:45 remaining. With three quick catches, Lewis moved past Simon for first on the all-time list but the veteran receiver and his offense were more focused on the other task at hand.

An intentional grounding penalty made things slightly more difficult but in the end, Bede’s kick — which initially appeared to be sailing wide right — just drew back inside to tie the game with nine seconds left.

After a wild final play of the game that saw three kicks go back and forth, the Bombers opened the scoring in overtime when, on second down, Denmark hauled in a pass and just reached the goal line for the major. Darvin Adams added the two-point conversion, putting the Als in an eight-point hole.

Despite never having the lead, the Alouettes refused to disappear into the late-August Montreal night. After converting a third-and-short, Cunningham found the end zone for his first major of the evening, setting up a two-point attempt to tie the game. And on the ensuing try, after an illegal procedure penalty, Durant dropped the ball in the basket of Rutley for two points and a tie game.

That, in the end, was the closest the Alouettes could get to picking up the win. Durant’s pass was picked off by Randle for the second time while Medlock’s ensuing kick split the uprights, sending the Bo-mbers to yet another tight victory and an impressive 7-2 record at the halfway point of the season.

Andrew Harris had 106 yards from scrimmage on 13 rushing attempts and four receptions while Adams had a game-high 88 receiving yards.

Rutley, filling in for the injured Tyrell Sutton, rushed for 78 yards on 12 carries while chipping in six catches for 27 yards.

While the Alouettes racked up 422 yards and 28 first downs, holding the edge in both categories, four turnovers proved costly for Jacques Chapdelaine’s club. At this point, the Alouettes’ minus-six turnover differential is tied with BC and Hamilton for the worst in the league. The Bombers, at plus-six, are second in the CFL behind only Calgary (plus-12).

For the Bombers, next on tap is a Labour Day home-and-home with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, starting Sept. 3 in Regina.

The Alouettes are back in action on Aug. 31 when they host the Ottawa REDBLACKS in a pivotal East Division tilt.

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