Aaron Kelly had a career night and Drew Willy was stellar in his Bomber debut as Winnipeg handled the Toronto Argonauts 45-21 in the CFL season opener at Investors Group Field.
Kelly hauled in the first two majors on back-to-back drives and totalled 100 yards on the night. Meanwhile, Willy was spot on in front of the Bomber faithful, throwing for 308 yards and 4 touchdowns on 19 of 27 passing.
Thursday night not only marked the start of a new CFL season but a list of new beginnings in Bomber-land. After 16 years combined as a player and coach in Toronto, Mike O’Shea traded in his Double Blue for Blue and Gold to take over the head coaching post in Winnipeg.
One of O’Shea’s first moves after being appointed as the new sideline boss was immediately naming Willy as his starter after the third-year pivot was acquired in the off-season.
Willy ensured that his head coach made the right decision as he could not have got out to a better start.
The University of Buffalo product went four-for-four out of the gate, connecting with Clarence Denmark and Nick Moore before hitting Kelly in the end zone on a post route for a 27-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Willy calmly orchestrated a 6-play, 71-yard drive to get Winnipeg going.
The Willy-to-Kelly connection was just getting started however, as two possessions later, they would cap off a 55-yard possession with another major.
Setting up the score was Johnny Sears who stripped Argos SB Andre Durie of the ball, forcing the fumble and allowing the Bombers to take over at midfield. Willy promptly found Kelly for 20 yards and then again for the 8-yard touchdown to extend the first quarter lead to 14-0.
As Willy and the offence went, so did the defence, limiting Argos starter Ricky Ray to only one first down in the opening frame and doing so – combined with another big gain – helped Winnipeg earn another three points off of an 8-yard field goal.
As the second quarter began, the Bomber defence continued to get after Ray, making him uncomfortable in the pocket and closing things up down field. With 2:54 remaining in the half, Cory Watson extended the lead to 24 with a 25-yard touchdown reception over linebacker Jamie Robinson who was in coverage. Watson would leave shortly thereafter, however, with an injury.
In search of some type of spark and willing to take one anyway they could, they would get one from defensive back Brenden Smith who sped down the sidelines and took the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to put the Argos inside Winnipeg territory.
Ray quickly found Jason Barnes over the middle in the end zone for a 19-yard major to cut the lead to 24-7 as the teams headed into halftime.
The Argonauts entered the locker room searching for answers and trying to solve the potent Bombers pass rush. They also looked to clean up their penalties which tallied 16 for 110 yards.
On the opposite sideline, it was difficult for O’Shea to not be pleased with his quarterback’s play in a first half which saw him go 12 of 18 for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns.
New half, same result for the Blue Bombers.
On Winnipeg’s first possession of the half, Willy found former Argo Julian Feoli-Gudino for 14 and 12-yard receptions before looking for Kelly again on a post route. Kelly was tied up by an Argos defender, and after O’Shea successfully challenged a non-call on pass interference, backup QB Robert Marve punched it in from 1-yard out and the Bombers opened up a 31-7 lead.
The Argonauts would answer in short order. Ray found Chad Owens, Spencer Watt and Barnes all for gains over 10 yards before dumping the ball off to running back Jeremiah Johnson on a misdirection for a 5-yard touchdown. The drive, which cut the lead to 31-14 was kept alive by a too many men on the field call on the Bombers when they had the Argos in a punting situation.
The Argos defence then started to get pressure on Willy, forcing him to throw an interception over the middle. But as quickly as the Argos seized momentum, Winnipeg snatched it right back.
Johnson took a handoff up the middle, bounced it outside only to fumble in his own end. The ball was picked up by Bombers DB Demond Washington and returned to the house for a major to reclaim the 24-point lead.
In a night where everything seemed to be going right for Winnipeg, Gudino put the exclamation mark on a tremendous Bombers effort, hauling in a 7-yard major to increase the lead to 45-14.
Another positive on this night was rookie tailback Nic Grigsby who rushed for 122 yards on 21 carries, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Grigsby was filling in for Will Ford who many thought would be the starter come week one but was placed on the injured list.
The Boatmen would get a brief spark when Owens took a punt return back for an 84-yard touchdown but the contest was more than out of reach at that point. Not willing to risk injury to Ray, head coach Scott Milanovich pulled his starter with just under seven minutes remaining and put in Trevor Harris to close out the game.
The Argos will regroup before hosting the defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders at Rogers Centre, while the Bombers stay at home to take on the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the expansion franchise's first ever game.