MONTREAL – The latest chapter in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ storybook start to the CFL season featured last-minute, come-from-behind heroics from local boy Julian Feoli-Gudino.
Winnipeg trailed by five points in the final minute when quarterback Drew Willy completed a 13-play, 75-yard drive with Feoli-Gudino’s 18-yard touchdown catch on third down to lift the Bombers to a 34-33 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night.
The Blue Bombers went 3-15 last season, but are 3-0 to start the 2014 campaign under rookie head coach Mike O’Shea and Willy, who is in his first season as a starter.
“Third down, in my hometown, it was amazing,” said Feoli-Gudina. “It was a good team effort. I just had to make a play at the end.”
He grew up playing football for the Sun Youth Organization at Jeanne-Mance Park, a five-minute walk from the Alouettes’ home stadium, where he watched a lot of CFL games.
So the former Toronto Argonaut, who joined the Bombers this season, was delighted to get a dramatic, game-winning grab with 29 seconds left before about 30 family and friends in the seats at Percival Molson Stadium.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Feoli-Gudino said. “I had a diagonal. It was man coverage. I went inside and Drew put it right on the money.”
Backup quarterback Robert Marve had a touchdown and the Winnipeg defence got one from linebacker Desia Dunn and another from defensive back Chris Randle. Lirim Hajrullahu booted three field goals for the Bombers, who played their first road game after a pair of wins at home.
Troy Smith threw his first three touchdown passes of the season to Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson, Kenny Stafford and S.J. Green for Montreal. It was the first career CFL touchdown for former NFL star Johnson. The Alouettes (1-2) also had four field goals from Sean Whyte.
It was a long, grinding game slowed by 33 penalties to both teams for 328 yards and a pair of time-consuming challenges each from O’Shea and Montreal coach Tom Higgins.
The last-minute TD marked the sixth lead change in the game.
But while Montreal led 385-274 in total offence and in time of possession at 33:22, it went down to the wire when Montreal had to settle for a field goal after Demond Washington’s second fumble of a punt in the game. That left the Bombers needing a touchdown to win with 2:18 left to play.
The final drive was aided by a pass interference call and a pair of third-down conversions, but Willy pulled it out in the end.
“That last drive was pretty exciting,” said Willy, who spent the last two seasons as Darian Durant’s backup in Saskatchewan. “I’ve been in some crazy games before but to make a touchdown on third and 10 in a tough place to play like this, it was fun to be part of.”
It was a heartbreaker for Montreal, which saw Smith have his best game since taking over as the starter this season. He completed 18 of 32 passes for 309 yards, and for the first time looked to have found his range on longer throws downfield.
But he also had a pass picked off by Randle when Montreal held an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“Turnovers are costly, particularly when you turn them into touchdowns,” said Higgins. “We got that turnover on a punt and it would have been nice if we got a touchdown there.
“Then we’re breathing differently. But that’s the reality of it. We are exactly where we’re at: slowly but surely getting better, but obviously not good enough to beat Winnipeg tonight.”
The Bombers got a 16-yard Hajrullahu boot on their first drive, but Montreal answered with a six-play drive capped by a 46-yard TD pass to Johnson. Ochocinco is known for hugging people he meets, and that’s what he did to the nearest official after the score.
Winnipeg looked to be stopped twice on their next drive, but a roughing call and a review of Jeff Tisdale’s hold on Clarence Denmark produced a pass interference call in the end zone that set up Marve’s one-yard TD 8:56 into the game.
Whyte tied it with a 25-yard kick to open the second quarter .
Winnipeg gave up the ball on downs on their own 32, but Jason Vega then stripped the ball from Troy Smith and Dunn ran it 70 yards to score at 10:41. However, the convert attempt was blocked by Alan-Michael Cash.
Whyte and Hajrullahu traded field goals late for a 19-13 Winnipeg halftime lead.
Montreal opened the second half with Smith’s 49-yard TD pass to a wide open Stafford to take a one-point lead.
Willy answered with a 49-yard toss to Nic Moore to set up Hajrullahu’s third field goal of the game, only to see Washington fumble a punt to set up a Whyte 37-yarder to put Montreal back in front.
Early in the fourth quarter, Smith found Green in the end zone for a five-yard TD, but the Winnipeg defence struck back when Randle picked off a pass and ran it in from 28 yards. The two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game failed.
Whyte added a 23-yard boot for a five-point lead with 2:18 left in the game.
Then came the winning drive that has Winnipeg off to its best start since 2003.
“It looks like we’re all starting to believe in it,” said O’Shea. “We played a tough defence tonight. We pulled out a win in the dying moments, which is a great CFL game in terms of back and forth. It’s good for the fans and the league.”
Among the crowd of 20,384 was Marc Trestman, who won two Grey Cups with Montreal before he was hired last season as head coach of the Chicago Bears. Trestman got a warm ovation as he was honoured in a half-time ceremony.
Chip Cox had six tackles and passed Kelly Wiltshire’s to take over 10th place all-time in career tackles with 613. The career leader is Willie Pless with 1,207.
The Bombers are back home Thursday to face Edmonton, while Montreal travels to B.C. on July 19 for their second meeting with the Lions in three weeks.