It was a statement win.
That’s the best way to describe the B.C. Lions 30-6 victory in Winnipeg versus the Bombers on Thursday night.
If you are looking for a reason why the Lions became the first Western Division team to win a game in Manitoba since the Saskatchewan Roughriders knocked off the Bombers 32-27 on Sept. 8, 2018, the answer is simple.
It was a total team effort.
“It was really tough out there. These types of games feel good because it really is a total team effort when the offense, defense and special teams are all contributing,” Lions Head Coach Rick Campbell told us on our post-game show on AM 730.
The Lions also won the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Let’s start with the defense where the Lions recorded seven sacks against a Bomber offensive line that many believe to be among the best in the CFL.
Mathieu Betts led the charge with three sacks as the Lions harassed Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros all night long.
What made those seven sacks even more impressive is that Lions defensive coordinator Ryan Phillips rarely dialed up the heat as the Lions got to Collaros with a four- or five-man rush for most of the night.
The Bombers came into the game averaging 43 points and 437 yards of offense per game. When it was all said and done, the Bombers could only muster 243 yards and a pair of field goals.
The defense played a critical part in the Lions win but never more so than late in the second quarter when the Bombers had driven to the Lions 9-yard line and had a first-and-goal with 1:40 remaining in the half.
Collaros tried to hit wide out Drew Wolitarsky for a touchdown but Gary Peters blanketed the Bomber wideout resulting in an incomplete pass. Then on second down, defensive end Sione Teuhema sacked Collaros forcing the Bombers to settle for a 21-yard Sergio Castillo field goal to make the score 10-6.
With :49 seconds remaining in the half, the Lions took possession on their own 40.
Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and the offense then went to work as Adams hit Lucky Whitehead for a 29-yard reception and then followed up with 17-yard strike to Alexander Hollins to give the Lions a first-and-ten at the Winnipeg 24. After a 6-yard-run by Adams and a 16-yard catch by Justin McInnis, Adams went back to Hollins on a quick slant for a three-yard touchdown pass.
Instead of the score perhaps being 10-10 at the half with the Bombers carrying the momentum, the Lions went into the locker room with a 17-6 lead.
To put it bluntly, it was the ballgame.
“That was huge. 17-6 looks a lot different than 10-10. Then being able to move the ball coming out of half time was big too,” said Campbell, alluding to the Lions 10-play 60-yard drive to start the second half that culminated in a 33-yard Sean Whyte field goal.
As good as the Lions defensive line was, their counterparts on the offensive side were also up to the task in protecting Adams, who was allowed to throw for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Adams was sacked three times on the night but for the most part, the Bomber pass rush was ineffective especially considering that in the second half they came with more blitzes as they were desperately trying to make something happen.
And finally, a mention has to go out to the special teams units as Bomber returner Janarion Grant was neutralized. Grant came into the game averaging 21.1 yards on punt returns that was buoyed by an electrifying 92-yard punt return for a touchdown against Saskatchewan.
Grant was held to 44 yards on eight punt returns as the Lions coverage teams continually swarmed to the ball.
But perhaps the biggest positive out of this game is the approach the Lions took into the showdown with Winnipeg.
Campbell had told us that his team was too hyped-up heading into their first game against Winnipeg last year – a game in Vancouver on July 9 in which the Bombers won 43-22 – and he was hoping for more balanced approach heading into this game.
Former Lion kicker Paul McCallum, working the sidelines for our broadcast, pointed out that was an even-keeled Lions team that took to IG Field and it showed throughout the game.
“I was really proud of our demeanor on the sideline. It was just very workman like. Just playing the game and not getting too high and not getting too low and just working the game,” said Campbell.
In the end, it was a great win but the Lions know that the Bombers aren’t going anywhere. This is a very good football team that will be looking for revenge when the two teams meet again in Winnipeg on Aug. 3.
It should make for a great rematch.
* What made the win even more impressive is that the Lions did so without the services of two of their top wide receivers in Dominique Rhymes and Keon Hatcher, who both missed the game due to injury. Rhymes and Hatcher are expected to play against the Toronto Argonauts in the Lions next game, July 3 in Toronto.
* The win was the Lions first in Winnipeg since Oct, 28, 2017 when Jonathan Jennings led B.C. to 36-27 victory.
* Bomber linebacker Adam Bighill finished the game with six tackles – one shy of tying former Lions teammate Solomon Elimimian for sixth on the all-time tackle list. Bighill now sits with 832 tackles in 166 career games. Elimimian racked up his total in 133 games.
* Whyte’s three field goals and three extra points put him at 1,767 career points – just five points behind Bombers legend Bernie Ruoff for 12th in all-time CFL scoring.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.