WINNIPEG – They put points on the board, now the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have to put fans back in the seats as they opened the CFL season with a convincing 45-21 win over the Toronto Argonauts Thursday night.
It was a welcome change from the past couple of seasons as they dominated the Argos on both sides of the ball, although coach Mike O’Shea said they made enough mistakes to show more work needs to be done.
Drew Willy’s debut as Winnipeg’s starting quarterback was nothing short of stunning for fans who have known little but disappointment the last two seasons. He threw four touchdown passes.
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“He just ran a good game. The No. 1 thing quarterbacks have to do, what they’re in charge of, is winning,” said O’Shea. “He went out there and he helped win the game for us.”
O’Shea said it probably surprised some people. Willy had started only four games and won just one as a backup in Saskatchewan for the last two seasons.
But the players, including Willy, said they weren’t surprised. The team has changed a lot from the one that went 3-15 last season.
“I kind of thought I could do it but I’m a confident guy,” said Willy. “I knew if I went through my reads and did everything possible things would go right . . . We got off to a good start. It was nice on the first drive to score.”
Even Argos head coach Scott Milanovich praised Willy’s efforts on the field.
“They protected the passer well and Drew made the throws that were there,” Milanovich said. “Give him a lot of credit, that was an excellent first start for him.”
Aaron Kelly at wide receiver caught two of those touchdown passes as he opened his first full season with the Bombers with a 100-yard game.
“I’m going to change his name, Big Play Kelly,” said O’Shea, who saw in a game what Kelly showed in camp.
He joined the Bombers midway through last season.
“I feel I’ve got a good opportunity here,” said Kelly, who entered his fourth season in the CFL and won an opener for the first time.
He spent 2011 and 2012 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“I worked hard to win the starting spot here and just wanted to come out and start fast and help the team win.”
Penalties crippled the Argos, who had 22 to just seven for the Bombers, and 16 in the first half alone. O’Shea said they were a huge part of the game and noted one of Winnipeg’s, for too many men, led to one of Toronto’s touchdowns.
Milanovich said his team needs to learn from the mistakes it made on the field Thursday.
“There’s three things we point to that win or lose football games: protecting the football, penalties, and protecting the quarterback, and we lost every phase of that …” Milanovich said. “We simply can’t win with that many penalty flags.”
After a couple of poor seasons, Winnipeg has some work to do to bring back the crowds at Investors Group Field.
There were almost 9,000 empty seats Thursday night and at 24,872, only barely beat the 24,000 who attended the Bombers’ pre-season tilt against the Argos three weeks ago.
Bombers president Wade Miller could be seen walking through the stands personally greeting fans Thursday night.
“As much as the players that have been here the last few years need this win, so did the fans and our players appreciate that,” said O’Shea.
“This community needs this. The players needs to understand that it’s bigger than them too.”
Cory Watson caught another touchdown pass, backup quarterback Robert Marve ran for a fourth, and defensive back Demond Washington carried a fumble in for a fifth. Canadian receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino, a former Argo, made it six with a seven-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
CFL rookie running back Nic Grigsby ran for 122 yards on 21 carries for the Bombers.
A 77-yard return by Brendan Smith set up Toronto’s only touchdown in the first half when Ricky Ray hit Jason Barnes for nine yards. They got another on a five-yard pass to Jeremiah Johnson in the second and picked up a single on a kick.
Chad Owens carried a kick back 83 yards late in the second half for another Toronto touchdown to make it 45-21.
Marve’s touchdown was set up by a successful pass interference challenge from coach Mike O’Shea, payback for a similar challenge from Toronto coach Scott Milanovich in their exhibition game June 6, the first time the new league rule saw action.
Toronto’s defence couldn’t put any serious pressure on Willy for much of the game and their offence was hammered by the Bombers, with sacks, forced fumbles, and intercepted or blocked passes.
Ray and Willy both threw 12 for 18 in the first half but Willy turned that into 246 yards and three touchdowns. Ray had to settle for 141 and one. Willy finished the game going 19 for 27 for 305 yards to Ray’s 27 for 38 and 283.
Trevor Harris came in for Ray late in the second half and Brian Brohm replaced Willy, although Willy returned for a few plays after Owen’s touchdown.
© The Canadian Press, 2014