A pair of pick sixes helped the B.C. Lions creep closer to a home playoff spot with a 40-32 win over the league-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
Halfbacks T.J. Lee and Marcus Sayles each collected interceptions and made massive runs for touchdowns in a victory that gave B.C. (11-5) sole possession of second place in the CFL’s West Division.
It was a mixed night for Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who threw for 138 yards and completed 13-of-22 attempts with one touchdown. He added 18 rushing yards and was sacked three times.
There were several new faces in Winnipeg’s lineup as head coach Mike O’Shea opted to rest a number of his usual starters, including quarterback Zach Collaros.
Making his first CFL start, Dru Brown threw 325 passing yards for the Blue Bombers (14-3), connecting on 28-of-39 attempts with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The second-year QB was sacked three times.
Winnipeg kicker Marc Liegghio struggled, missing three long field-goal attempts. He was successful on a 38-yard kick.
Sean Whyte made all four of his attempts for B.C., including a 41-yard strike.
Down 13 points to start the final frame, Winnipeg refused to relent.
Brown found Rasheed Bailey deep in B.C. territory early in the quarter with a 15-yard catch and the American receiver dashed two yards in for a touchdown to cap a seven-play, 85-yard scoring drive.
The Lions responded with a 25-yard field goal by Whyte.
Lee sealed the victory with just over two minutes left on the game clock, picking off Brown’s pass to Nic Demski and sprinting 102 yards for a touchdown.
A successful single-point convert by Whyte gave the Lions a 40-24 cushion.
The Blue Bombers continued to push and added one more TD to the scoreboard before the game was done.
Brown delivered a crisp 11-yard pass to Bailey in the end zone with less than 70 seconds to go, then connected with Demski for a two-point conversion that cut the Lions’ lead to 40-32.
Whyte’s 26-yard kick put the home side up 30-17 at the end of the third quarter.
The Bombers bit into B.C.’s lead earlier in the frame when the CFL’s leading receiver made his first catch of the night.
Brown sent an arching 22-yard toss to Dalton Schoen, who made a tough catch on the edge of the end zone. The touchdown, Schoen’s 14th of the season, cut Winnipeg’s deficit to 27-17.
The Lions took a 27-10 advantage into the half, thanks in part to a successful coach’s challenge.
With time ticking down in the second quarter, Adams sent a long ball sailing to Alexander Hollins, only to see the ball call incomplete. B.C. head coach Rick Campbell challenged the play for defensive pass interference and, after a review, officials agreed, handing Winnipeg a 38-yard penalty.
The Lions took advantage and Adams completed the scoring drive with a 23-yard toss to Dominique Rhymes in the end zone. The touchdown was Rhymes’ 11th of the season.
A missed field goal helped B.C. boost its advantage to 20-10 earlier in the frame.
Leigghio’s 52-yard attempt fell shot and Williams collected the ball, returning it for 90 yards and putting the Lions in scoring position. Adams couldn’t find a teammate in the end zone but Whyte put three points on the board with a 16-yard field goal.
B.C. got a big play from its defensive unit midway through the second. Marcus Sayles picked off Brown’s pass and ran it in 45 yards for a TD.
Winnipeg temporarily tied the game at 10-10 early in the quarter when returner Janarion Grant streaked 94 yards down the sideline and into the end zone on a punt return.
The Lions open the second with a 41-yard field goal by Whyte, giving the home side a 10-3 lead. Running back James Butler put B.C. in scoring position with a 36-yard run late in the first.
Big runs were an early theme for the Lions on Saturday.
Terry Williams opened the game with a 40-yard kick return and Adams scrambled out of the pocket for a 16-yard rush minutes later.
The QB handed off the ball to Butler on the next play and he weaved nine yards through traffic into the end zone to cap the five-play, 50-yard scoring drive.
Winnipeg responded with a drive of its own.
Brown showed his ground game with a solid 12-yard rush on second down to get the Bombers into Lions’ territory. But Winnipeg’s offence struggled and ultimately settled for a 39-yard field goal on their first possession of the game.
The Lions will take on the Elks in Edmonton on Friday while the Blue Bombers are on their final bye of the season. B.C. will close out the regular-season campaign in Winnipeg on Oct. 28.
NOTES: Both sides got big performances from their returners with Grant amassing 226 yards and a TD for the Blue Bombers and Williams tallying 341 yards. … B.C. linebacker Ben Hladik left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. … Saturday marked the first time this season that Winnipeg has lost to a West Division opponent (9-1).
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press