Special Win: 'D', special teams lead Bombers over Als
Led by touchdowns on special teams and defence and four Lirim Hajrullahu field goals, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers earned a bounce-back 25-23 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night in Winnipeg.
Cato played well in his second career start but couldn’t overcome a pair of interceptions one week after a dazzling win in his first career start against the defending Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders. He finished with 317 yards on 22-of-31 passing but couldn't find the end zone after scoring three times in his debut.Johnny Adams picked off a Rakeem Cato pass and returned it for a touchdown in the second quarter while Teague Sherman scored on a blocked punt in the dying seconds of the first half, helping the Bombers rebound from a lopsided loss in their home opener one week ago.
Drew Willy also didn't find the end zone for Winnipeg after exiting the game with an upper body injury last week in the Bombers' home-opening loss to Hamilton, but he kept the Bomber offence moving and threw for 251 yards on a solid 20-of-29 passing.
S.J. Green, meanwhile, finished with a career-high 180 yards on six catches to lead all receivers in the game, but it wasn't enough to help the Alouettes secure a second straight win. Alouettes running back Tyrell Sutton, the league's leading rusher entering Week 2 action, had the game's only two offensive touchdowns on 74 rushing yards.
The Bombers had Cato running around early in this game, bringing him down for a pair of first-quarter sacks and pitching a shutout through the game’s first 15 minutes. Hajrullahu opened the scoring with a career-high 52-yard field goal, then closed out the first-quarter scoring with a chip shot to give Winnipeg a 6-0 lead.
After a Boris Bede field goal for Montreal cut Winnipeg’s lead in half, the Bombers couldn’t get anything going offensively against the Alouettes’ stout defence, so they turned to their defence for the game’s first big play.
With Cato looking to make something happen early in the second quarter, his pass out to the left sideline was jumped by Bombers defensive back Adams and Adams have nothing but green field in front of him, returning the pick 40 yards for the game’s first score.
Down 12-3, the Alouettes needed an answer from their young starting pivot and Cato quickly answered. A deep ball to Green behind the Bomber secondary moved the Alouettes 51 yards deep into scoring territory. Then on a second down play, Sutton took the handoff and broke outside to just cross the pylon and score the Alouettes’ first touchdown.
The play was reviewed but upheld, capping off a 10-play, 80-yard drive to make it a 12-10 ballgame.
It appeared as though that score would hold up until the break, but a critical error by a young quarterback opened the door for a clutch play on special teams. On second down with about 20 seconds left, Cato had the chance to wind the clock down but ran out of bounds on a scramble, forcing Montreal to punt one last time.
S.J. Green hit a new career high in receiver yards, but it wasn't enough to lead the Alouettes from behind.
The Bombers and Alouettes exchanged field goals in the third to make it 22-13 through 45 minutes, but in the fourth Cato had the Montreal offence on the move yet again. The 23-year-old connected with a wide open Green over the middle and the veteran turned it up field for a gain down to the Winnipeg 32.
After back-to-back completions to slippery running back Stefan Logan to move the sticks, Cato took off for a first down on his own two legs down inside the Winnipeg 10. Then the Alouettes went right back to their money man in the red zone as Sutton capped off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run to make it a two-point ballgame early in the fourth, 22-20.
A 33-yard field goal by the Bombers, Hajrullahu's fourth of the game, added insurance for Winnipeg but it was later cancelled out by another field goal by Bede.
With time winding down in the game, the Alouette defence rewarded Tom Higgins' faith in the unit with a quick stop of Willy and the Bombers' offence. Barely a minute remaining, the ball was in Cato's hands -- the Alouettes down two points and needing a game-winning drive.
But after being scrutinized for its performance the first two weeks of the season, Winnipeg's defence rose to the occasion when it mattered most. The Bombers forced two quick stops and then shut down Cato on third down, preserving the Bombers' second win of the season and first at home.
Chris Randle also had an interception for Winnipeg and added four tackles while Kyler Elsworth, taking the place of injured linebacker Bear Woods, had a game-high 11 tackles for Montreal. Nick Moore caught a game-high seven passes for Winnipeg for 71 yards.
The Alouettes and Cato look to get back in the win column a week from now vs. Hamilton on Thursday night, a key early-season East Division battle. The Bombers, meanwhile, look to carry their momentum into Calgary for a game against the Stampeders that could serve as an early-season measuring stick next Saturday.