Winnipeg Blue Bombers use full team effort to win season opener over BC Lions

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers came out on top in an exciting back-and-forth battle against the BC Lions on Saturday, closing out Week 1 with a 33-23 victory. Quarterback Matt Nichols led the way with three touchdown strikes as he completed 21 of 33 passes for 184 yards to help the Bombers win their first season opener since 2015.

2018 league rushing leader Andrew Harris did not miss a beat to start the new season, gashing the Lions’ defence for 148 yards on 16 rushes with 9.3 yards per carry. The versatile playmaker also added five catches for 27 yards.

Darvin Adams made an impact with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown, eclipsing 4,000 receiving yards for his CFL career.

Mike Reilly had some good moments as the Lions’ new starting quarterback, finishing the game with 324 yards and a touchdown on 22 completions.

Winnipeg receiver Drew Wolitarsky contributed two touchdown catches to go with 43 receiving yards, and Bombers safety Jeff Hecht added two key interceptions to help Winnipeg secure the road win.

Brandon Rutley made his presence known on special teams for the Lions with an incredible 108-yard kickoff return touchdown, and BC receiver Bryan Burnham led all pass catchers on the night with five receptions for 153 yards.

Both defences stood strong to start the game, with Lions defensive end Odell Willis notching his first sack of the season and 98th of his career. But Reilly got things going for BC near the end of the first quarter with two big throws to Burnham for 97 yards.

The Leos appeared to be on their way to the end zone, but a time count violation caused the promising drive to stall. Lions kicker Sergio Castillo made the 23-yard field goal to put the first points on the board.

Nichols and the Bombers’ offence responded quickly to start the second quarter. The veteran passer led his offence down the field and made a brilliant throw on the run while escaping pressure to find trusted target Adams in the end zone for a five-yard score. Harris chipped in 15 rushing yards on the drive and kicker Justin Medlock knocked the extra point through to give Winnipeg an early 7-3 lead.

Winnipeg RB Andrew Harris battled all game Photo: JImmy Jeong CFL.ca

The Lions narrowed Winnipeg’s lead down to one point on a 40-yard field goal from Castillo after receiver Lemar Durant and running back John White moved the chains by turning short passes into significant gains.

Momentum remained firmly on the Bombers’ side as the ensuing drive unfolded, with Nichols making his biggest throw of the opening half on a 43-yard pass to Adams. Nichols demonstrated perfect touch and accuracy on the play action play to hit Adams in stride and put Winnipeg in position to add to its lead.

Nichols capped off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Wolitarsky, and Medlock added the extra point to give the Bombers a 14-6 lead.

But the Lions answered back right away on the very next play, as running back and return specialist Brandon Rutley took the deep kickoff and used his speed to return it all the way to the end zone for a 108-yard touchdown as the home crowd roared at BC Place. The Lions went for two points on the next play to even the score, and Reilly connected with new weapon Duron Carter in the left side of the end zone to make it a tie ball game.

The Leos took the lead on the final play of the half with Castillo’s third field goal of the game, a 45-yarder that put BC on top 17-14.

The Bombers stepped up on defence in the third quarter with a big interception from Hecht. The Bombers safety made a spectacular play by picking off Reilly and returning it 51 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation for Winnipeg.

Nichols capitalized on the turnover by using his legs once again to extend the play to his left as he found Wolitarsky for a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the Bombers ahead. Medlock added the extra point to make it a 21-17 game.

It was now BC’s turn to respond, and the offence found a way to answer the call once again. Reilly found Carter for another key play, this time hitting his new receiver down the right side of the field for a 32-yard gain. The Lions regained the lead two plays later on a 15-yard touchdown strike from Reilly to Durant.

But the extra point attempt from Castillo was blocked by Bombers defensive back Marcus Sayles. Brandon Alexander recovered the ball for Winnipeg before making a lateral to Chandler Fenner who took it 80 yards to the end zone for two points, tying the game at 23 points apiece.

Big gains on the ground and in the air from Harris helped set up a 30-yard go-ahead field goal from Medlock near the end of the third quarter, putting Winnipeg up 26-23.

The Bombers extended their lead in the fourth quarter with a one-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Chris Streveler after Nichols put the team in position to score with big passes to Wolitarsky and Kenny Lawler. Medlock knocked the extra point through to make it a 10-point game.

Hecht added another key interception near the end of the game to seal the victory for the Blue and Gold.

Week 2 will see the BC Lions face the Edmonton Eskimos on the road next Friday at 9:00 P.M. EDT, while the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have a week off before they host the Eskimos on June 27th.

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