Blue Bombers blitz B.C. Lions 43-22 in battle of CFL unbeatens

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VANCOUVER — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers found their offence as they improved to 5-0 on the season with a 43-22 win over the B.C. Lions.

The two-time defending Grey Cup champions logged 429 yards against a B.C. defence that had been averaging just 244 yards allowed per game, one day after Lions defensive back Marcus Sayles referred to his former CFL club’s offence as “vanilla,” and said B.C. felt that it could beat Winnipeg “pretty bad” on Saturday.

After the game, defensive lineman Willie Jefferson said he’d call Winnipeg’s offensive performance a “chocolate sundae. We had some sprinkles on there, a little whipped cream, a cherry on the top. It just wasn't vanilla, I can tell you that."

Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while Janarion Grant ran back the game’s opening kickoff for a major to give his team an early 7-0 lead.

“You can’t go out there and half-ass stuff,” said Collaros. “Every game is the biggest game and that’s how we treated it all week.”

“I think their quarterback was the Houdini guy tonight,” said Lions coach Rick Campbell. “He made some key plays where we did our job on defence. But then he scrambled around and made a couple of key first downs and a touchdown.”

Dru Brown added a quarterback sneak for a major, as well as taking over as the Bombers’ pivot late in the fourth quarter. Marc Liegghio chipped in with three field goals.

In their first loss of the season, the Lions (3-1) got two touchdown receptions from Dominique Rhymes and one from Josh Pearson. First-year starting quarterback Nathan Rourke went 16-for-25 in the air, passing for 278 yards with two interceptions. Michael O’Connor took over under centre for the Lions late in the fourth quarter. He went 4-for-7 for 27 yards and threw one interception in his first action of the young season.

“I think we were a lot closer than the score,” said Rourke. “I’m glad this happened early in the season. We can make the adjustments earlier.”

The Blue Bombers’ dominance began with the first play of the game, Grant’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

The Lions’ opening drive was halted when Jackson Jeffcoat picked off a pass intended for Keon Hatcher. That set up a nine-play drive that was topped off by Zach Collaros’ 12-yard pass to Dalton Schoen deep in the end zone.

The Bombers pushed their lead to 21-0 as the first quarter ended, after Brown finished off a 77-yard drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak.

“They made more plays than us today and that’s all that matters,” said Lions defensive back T.J. Lee, who finished with five tackles. “I love how my guys responded, not beating each other up during adversity. We’re hugging each other during adversity, letting each other know that we’re going to ride for each other.”

The Lions ran into penalty trouble to start the second quarter. Pinpoint passes by Nathan Rourke to James Butler and Dominque Rhymes moved the ball to midfield before a sack by Willie Jefferson brought Stefan Flintoft onto the field for the first punt of the game.

After a 45-yard Liegghio field goal late in the second, the Lions responded, igniting the home crowd. Rourke capped off a two-play touchdown drive with a 66-yard bomb for Josh Pearson’s first career CFL touchdown reception. Winnipeg’s next drive was stalled by back-to-back offensive penalties before Rourke hit Rhymes in the end zone from 36 yards out.

The Blue Bombers added a late field goal, and took a 27-14 lead into the dressing room at halftime.

Winnipeg added to its lead in the third. Liegghio split the uprights again from 46 yards, then Collaros hit Schoen in the end zone for the second time, pushing the lead to 37-14.

Early in the fourth, Rourke connected with Rhymes for his second touchdown of the game, and Jevon Cottoy caught a pass in the end zone for a two-point convert. Winnipeg logged its third touchdown when Collaros connected with Greg Ellingson from 15 yards.

NOTES: B.C. Linebacker Bo Lokombo left the game late in the first quarter with an elbow injury, and did not return … Winnipeg will host the CFL’s only other unbeaten team, the 4-0 Calgary Stampeders, next Friday at IG Field … The Lions have a bye week … Family Day festivities on Saturday included a mascot football game at halftime.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2022

Carol Schram, The Canadian Press

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