Sergio Castillo was perfect on four field goal tries and Tim Flanders scored on the final play of the first half, leading the Bombers to a 36-13 pre-season win over the Alouettes on Wednesday night in Winnipeg.
Bryan Bennett contributed a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to seal the deal, sending Winnipeg to a 1-0 record in pre-season on a night that saw several quarterbacks play for both clubs.
Bombers fans hoping to see Andrew Harris and Ryan Smith weren’t disappointed, as Smith made a 32-yard catch from Drew Willy in limited action while Harris showed off his impressive downhill running style on a screen play that went for a touchdown but was called back.
Justin Medlock kicked his first field goal as a Bomber from long range, but in the end it was his backup Castillo making the biggest difference, hitting three of his game-high four field goals in the third quarter to pace the Bombers to the eventual victory in the CFL pre-season opener.
Weston Dressler did not get reps on offence for the Bombers but served as a holder on special teams, while Drew Willy and Kevin Glenn each played for the entire first quarter.
Glenn, named the Alouettes’ starting quarterback going into pre-season, finished a busy night with 14 completions on 19 attempts for 140 yards and a touchdown, including a strike to Nik Lewis early in the second quarter to give the Alouettes a 7-3 lead.
Willy finished his day with three completions on six passing attempts for 52 yards.
Glenn and Willy each played the entire first quarter, which ended in a 3-0 Bombers lead on a 47-yard field goal by free agent signing Medlock.
Maurice Leggett celebrates a big play for the Bombers (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
But while Willy’s day was done through 15 minutes, Glenn had one more drive that extended through the start of the second quarter and it was a big one. The veteran pivot continued his efficient evening with six straight completions, eventually drawing a pass interference penalty on second down before finding Lewis for the five-yard score.
With all the talk about Vernon Adams and Brandon Bridge this training camp, Rakeem Cato had become somewhat of a forgotten man in Montreal but on Wednesday he was the second quarterback to lead the huddle. Cato stepped on the field in the second quarter and didn’t take long to find the end zone, capping off a five-play scoring drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to rookie 5-foot-8 receiver Chandler Jones in the back of the end zone.
Chandler maintained his concentration to hang on for the catch in between Bombers defenders, while Boris Bede missed the extra point as the Alouettes extended their lead to 13-3.
Matt Nichols took over for a brief period in the second quarter before turning the game over the Dominique Davis. The second-year Bomber pivot is in a battle for the third string quarterback position and started his bid on the right foot, setting up a Castillo field goal to cut the deficit to 13-6.
Just before the half Davis threaded the needle to Thomas Mayo, eventually setting up a hard-fought one-yard touchdown by Flanders with no time left on the clock. The ruling of a touchdown was reviewed but upheld, tying the game at 13 apiece through 30 minutes of play in Winnipeg.
A fumbled return by Alouettes receiver Mikhail Davidson helped the Bombers and Castillo connect on back to back field goals, while former Oregon Duck Bennett entered the game with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Castillo’s fourth field goal of the night extended Winnipeg’s lead to 22-13 heading into the fourth quarter, and from that point it was Vernon Adams’ chance for the Alouettes.
Adams stepped into the Als’ huddle early in the fourth, but his pro football debut didn’t start exactly as planned as his pass was deflected by rookie draft pick Rupert Butcher and intercepted by second-year defensive back Garrett Waggoner.
With the Bombers switching back and forth between Davis and Bennett, the latter put the final points on the board for the Blue and Gold with a touchdown run in the fourth quarter followed by a touchdown toss to receiver Fred Williams. That put the game well out of reach, preserving a 36-13 win for Winnipeg.
The Bombers are next in action on June 13 when they visit the Ottawa REDBLACKS, while the Alouettes return home to take on the Argos on June 17.
Both clubs will meet again in Week 1 of the CFL season in June 24 in Winnipeg.
It might just be pre-season, but all eyes will be on Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field on Wednesday night for a number of reasons.
For one, football is back for the first time in more than six months, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes open up pre-season action and usher in a new Canadian Football League season.
“Just to be able to make a full tackle for once,” said Bombers linebacker Khalil Bass. “It’s been over seven months since we’ve played an actual game and got to fully tackle somebody, so it’ll be fun.
“I’ve been feeling it for a few months now.”
Bass isn’t alone, and among him and other players anxious to hit the field are Bombers and Alouettes fans. Both teams will have some new wrinkles when they hit the field on Wednesday night including many new faces.
In Winnipeg, Head Coach Mike O’Shea said all of Andrew Harris, Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith will make their debuts and play as long as they need to. The offensive trio signed during the winter as part of General Manager Kyle Walters’ off-season makeover that also included the addition of Offensive Coordinator Paul LaPolice.
“They need to play as long as they need to play,” O’Shea said of his stars. “That’s a conversation we’re going to have with those guys to see how ready they feel. Generally we’d be on the same page with that.”
Drew Willy will get the start at quarterback but don’t expect him to play long. Meanwhile, with regards to the only real question mark on the offence, Kevin Cone gets the green light at wide receiver, a position that remains wide open heading into pre-season game one.
O’Shea said the focus was bringing in bigger targets to complement others in the receiving corps, but in the end the emphasis will be placed on finding the right chemistry.
“We need the best lineup, the best group of receivers out there that complement each other,” said O’Shea. “Obviously we brought in a bunch of guys with size to see how that looks for us, and we’re pleased because the bigger receivers we brought in are good athletes and smart players.”
Also vying for a chance to make an impact is punter Billy Pavlopoulos, who’s turned heads in camp but will have to take away punting duties from Justin Medlock, while Chris Randle and Matt Bucknor are locked in a heated duel to start at cornerback.
Sam Hurl, competing for a chance to start at middle linebacker, is one of just a few Bombers projected regulars who won’t be in the lineup.
While those battles are ones to watch throughout pre-season action, the Bombers’ first-team offence and defence will likely only play sparingly on Wednesday as O’Shea looks to give his rookies a chance to make an impression.
“It’s a pretty tough situation for them, in terms of they understand the business and it’s a very small window to make it in this game and it’s tough for rookies to displace veterans in that amount of time,” said O’Shea.
“But they’re going to get the opportunity to do that.”
For the visiting Alouettes, all eyes will be on the huddle throughout Wednesday’s matchup as Head Coach and General Manager Jim Popp brings all seven available quarterbacks with him to Winnipeg.
Kevin Glenn will lead the offence out of the gate while Popp indicated that national Brandon Bridge will likely be the second man out, but after that it’s anyone’s guess.
Among the other options is Vernon Adams, whom the Als acquired last month for a first round pick in a trade with the BC Lions.
“He’ll play, whether he plays in this game or next week – he’ll definitely play in the pre-season,” said Popp. The Als head coach says he won’t rush things with Adams, who along with Bridge and Glenn appears to have a roster spot locked up.
With plans to keep either four or five quarterbacks, questions surround whether Tajh Boyd or Rakeem Cato could be a casualty of the Alouettes’ depth at the position.
Another question for the Alouettes surrounds the offensive line, where for the first time since 2006 Josh Bourke won’t be lined up as the team’s left tackle this year. He left for Toronto as a free agent and on top of the recent sudden retirement of Dominic Picard, the Alouettes have a lot to determine on their five-man unit.
“We knew the day was coming, whether it was because of financial reasons or whether guys start aging – you draft players and you groom them.”
Popp said on Tuesday it’s a rarity that all three O-linemen the Als drafted this season – Philippe Gagnon, Sean Jamieson and Matthew Toppan – are competing for a chance to start, along with last year’s first round pick Jacob Ruby.
For Wednesday’s game the Als’ positional chart shows Ruby taking over the left tackle spot and Kristian Matte at centre, while Jake Piotrowski and the veteran Philip Blake occupy the guard positions. Veteran Jeff Perrett stands in his usual spot as the team’s right tackle.
“We’ve always done this with offensive linemen, we’ve had great depth,” said Popp. “We have great depth now. There’s some unknown because [some of the younger players] have to get in there and play.
“We knew the time was coming, we’re going to have to play somebody at tackle.”
Off-season addition and former NFL defensive lineman Vaughn Martin is listed on the positional chart and expected to play, while 2015 CFL All-Star and off-season free agent signing Jovon Johnson will make his debut at cornerback.
Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford are familiar faces back in Alouettes colours after leaving the team in 2015 but returning as free agents over the winter.
Outside of the O-line, the Alouettes will show a familiar configuration on both sides of the ball, including on offence where Offensive Coordinator Anthony Calvillo along with Jacques Chapdelaine continue installing a unit that’s been rebuilt from scratch.
Of course, don’t expect the Als or either team to show much on Wednesday night, as these teams meet again in roughly two more weeks on June 24 as they kick off the regular season in Winnipeg.