CALGARY — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will host their first playoff game since 2011.
The Bombers forced four first-half turnovers and seven in total, including a pick-six by rookie Brandon Alexander, to earn a 23-5 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night in Calgary.
A snowy McMahon Stadium set the scene for the one-sided Winnipeg victory, sending the Stamps to their third consecutive loss while helping the Bombers lock up a home date in the Western Semi-Final.
Dan LeFevour picked up the ‘W’ in his first start of the season for the Blue and Gold, throwing for 91 yards on 13-of-17 passing. Justin Medlock connected on all three field goal attempts, including one from 52 off the upright, helping the Bombers jump out to a 23-0 halftime lead on the way to their 12th win of the season.
Whether it was the inclement weather or an aggressive Winnipeg defense, Canadian quarterback Andrew Buckley struggled in his first career start. Buckley completed 13 of 18 passes for 120 yards and an interception, adding a fumble while managing to muster only three points before being replaced by Ricky Stanzi.
Jerome Messam and Andrew Harris each went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark, with the latter setting the single-season receptions record for a running back on his 103rd catch of the season, passing former Riders running back Craig Ellis.
The Bombers will take on the winner of Edmonton vs. Saskatchewan on Saturday night in the Western Semi-Final on Nov. 12 at Investors Group Field. Calgary, meanwhile, already has home date in the Western Final a week later at McMahon.
With two backup quarterbacks in the game and frigid, snowy conditions at kickoff, it was no surprise that the defenses set the tone from the get-go.
It started early in the game, when, after the offenses exchanged two-and-outs, Buckley’s pass intended for Kamar Jorden was jumped by rookie corner Alexander and returned 56 yards for six points the other way.
While the Stamps’ defense provided ample time for Buckley and the offence to reply, that unit couldn’t crack the Bombers’ defense through the first 30 minutes. After the interception, the Stamps turned the ball over on downs, then punted on three consecutive drives while three field goals by Medlock made it 16-0 Winnipeg.
With halftime approaching, the Bomber defense offered one more critical blow before the whistle. Ian Wild‘s sack of Buckley knocked the ball loose for Tristan Okpalaugo to scoop it up and return it for a 52-yard touchdown.
The Bombers’ second defensive touchdown of the half made it 23-0 Winnipeg through 30 minutes.
Buckley and the Stamps started to warm up early in the third, opening the quarter with a drive deep into Bomber territory. But their longest drive of the night stalled after a failed third-down attempt, preserving the Bombers’ shutout.
Winnipeg’s defense would crack eventually, allowing a 28-yard boot by Rene Paredes to make it 23-3, but the Stamps couldn’t muster much more.
Calgary’s fifth turnover of the game led to a quarterback swap, but Stanzi couldn’t fare much better for the Red and White. On his first drive, Stanzi was picked off by Bombers linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, marking the sixth giveaway by the home team.
The Stampeders added a late safety conceded by Medlock in the end zone, but Kevin Fogg‘s interception off Stanzi put to bed any lingering hopes of a comeback. Stanzi finished his night 3-for-6 for 48 yards and two interceptions.
Harris played most of the game at running back for the Bombers, rushing for 68 yards on eight carries while adding 28 yards through the air on five receptions.
But at the end of the day, the Bombers were carried most by their opportunistic defense. In addition to two first-half touchdowns, the Bombers forced seven turnovers and recorded seven sacks, including three from Okpalaugo.
Jackson Jeffcoat (2), Cory Johnson and Wild also recorded quarterback takedowns, while the Stamps failed to record a sack.
Defense was indeed the story for both clubs in this one, with neither team managing to eclipse 200 net yards. The Bombers finished with 186 yards compared to Calgary’s 158 yards, while both clubs combined for only 19 first downs.
With Winnipeg hosting the Western Semi-Final, there’s a chance these teams will meet again in two weeks in the same spot. On the line then, however, would be a trip to the 105th Grey Cup.
First, the Bombers will have to defeat either the Edmonton Eskimos or the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Those two teams meet on Saturday night, with the loser traveling east as the crossover team.
While the Bombers break their two-game losing streak and finish 12-6, the Stampeders drop their third straight game and finish with a record of 13-4-1. The loss marks the first time in 180 games, dating back to 2007, that the Stampeders lost three in a row.
Friday wire-to-wire defeat was also the first time in 52 contests the Stampeders have not led.
Reginald Begelton finished with a game-high 72 receiving yards on five receptions for Calgary — almost half of the team’s total yardage.