The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are temporarily two points out of first place in the East Division.
No, this is not a misprint folks.
It’s the cold-hard truth.
By virtue of a topsy-turvy 32-25 victory on Thursday night at Canad Inns Stadium, the Blue Bombers improved to 2-5 and within two points of the three remaining teams in the East (though two of them hold a game in hand).
Such is life in the Crazy Football League, where a team can seem on the verge of implosion one week and simply moving in the right direction the next.
“You know how the East is right now, it’s so close,” said Blue Bombers centre Justin Sorensen. “We started 1-5, but if you string a couple of wins together here and you’re right back in the mix.”
Right back in the mix indeed, that’s where the Blue Bombers find themselves with the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions rolling into town next Friday.
The mood was joyous in the Blue Bomber locker room, but they seem to be keeping things in perspective as well.
It’s just one step out of the deep hole they’ve dug themselves.
“It allows us to keep pace with everybody else in the league,” aid LaPolice. “More than anything, it’s a lift for our guys.”
How could it not be?
The storylines were seemingly endless in this one, but most of the headlines will revolve around quarterback Joey Elliott — who piloted the Blue Bomber offensive attack to 406 yards through the air, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since Michael Bishop turned the trick in 2009 against the Montreal Alouettes.
Most importantly, Elliott didn’t turn the ball over (though the Ticats are probably kicking themselves for a couple of missed opportunities to secure a pick or two).
The numbers were impressive, perhaps even mind-blowing, but this was about much more than the numbers.
Although the Blue Bombers couldn’t kick the habit of starting slow out of the gate, Elliott managed the game well, building his confidence with short passes while establishing chemistry with most of his receivers.
Then when the opportunity to come up with a deep strike presented itself, Elliott found Chris Matthews down the sideline.
He wasn’t done there.
In fact, when Henry Burris found Chris Williams for his third touchdown of the contest on an 84-yard highlight-reel play, Elliott wanted the ball in his hands.
He wasn’t afraid of the moment.
In fact, Elliott embraced it, putting an impressive stretch together — an eight-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown run from Will Ford that came with 1:25 left in regulation.
Game, set and match.
“A win is a win, but we’ve got to stack a few more,” said Elliott, who had fans chanting his name at various points in this contest. “It’s huge. You hear the locker room. Winning doesn’t come easy. It’s just excitement.”
But this wasn’t all about offence, not at all.
The defence did surrender a few monster plays, but it was stout for most of the contest, creating five of the six turnovers in the game, the other coming on special teams after Williams fumbled after another impressive return.
Not lost in the mix was an outstanding effort from Alex Hall, who forced Burris to fumble at the one-yard line late in the first quarter on a play that would have given the Ticats a 14-1 lead.
It would have been easy for Hall to quit on the play, but that simply wasn’t an option.
“No, that’s not my style — I don’t give up,” said Hall. “It looked like (Burris) thought he was about to score and he was kind of relaxed a little bit. I just went for the ball and stripped it.
“I’ve been playing this game for a long time and that’s one thing I’ve never done, give up on plays.”
With plenty of work left to be done for the Blue Bombers to fully dig themselves out of this hole, those are probably some pretty good words to live by.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
You’ve got to give it to Winnipeg quarterback Joey Elliott. He completed 33 of 43 passes for 406 yards and one touchdown. Most importantly, he took charge of the offence and moved the ball fairly consistently, even if he was far from perfect.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Winnipeg defensive end Alex Hall forced two fumbles at critical junctures. Hall first forced Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris to fumble the ball away when he was heading into the endzone in the first quarter. Jovon Johnson recovered in the endzone. Then, with Hamilton fielding the ball at the Winnipeg 53 in the fourth quarter, Hall stripped Burris of the ball once again. Bryant Turner recovered.
Honourable mention to linebacker Jonathan Hefney.
TOP SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER
Give it to Bombers punter Mike Renaud, who was often under siege, but still managed to boot some well-placed punts. He also recovered a Chris Williams fumble.
Kind of obvious but the four-yard touchdown run by backup running back Will Ford, who replaced Chad Simpson late in the game, was the winning score.
SMACK OF THE MATCH
Winnipeg defensive end Alex Hall smacked Henry Burris, forcing him to fumble in the fourth quarter.
Winnipeg’s Jovon Johnson fielded a missed field goal in the endzone and made it seem like he’s going to concede a single, then bursts out of the endzone, dekes a couple of defenders and ends up with a 51-yard return.
— With files from Jim Bender