Coach Tim Burke had at least a few minutes to celebrate, before his Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost 38-33 to the Montreal Alouettes and spoiled what looked like a celebration to open Investors Group Field.
“When we were up by nine, I was really enjoying it a lot,” he said.
The Alouettes regained their pose after surrendering a 14-0 lead they built early in the first quarter to come back in the fourth from that nine-point deficit Thursday.
Demond Washington’s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown helped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers grab the lead in the third and electrify the sellout crowd of 33,500.
But Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who was sacked four times but still completed 20-of-35 pass attempts, put the victory party on hold.
He threw a 42-yard pass to S.J. Green in the end zone just over four minutes into the final quarter to close within two.
A penalty brought the Alouettes into Winnipeg territory and Sean Whyte kicked a 35-yard field goal to make it 34-33. He hit another at 13:19 and capped the scoring on a punt single for the 38-33 final.
New Montreal head coach Dan Hawkins said overall he was pleased with the game.
“AC made plays, the receivers made plays, we were able to get some momentum back,” said Hawkins, who took over this season after Marc Trestman left to coach the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
“Whytey kicked the heck out of the ball, did a great job answering there . . . I thought it was all good except for the punt return.”
Oft-injured Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce, who didn’t see much pre-season action, was also sacked three times but moved the ball better in the second half.
He hit 19 of his 32 pass attempts but allowed a couple of ill-timed interceptions in the opening half — one leading to a touchdown.
“I felt comfortable going into the game. That was just two errant throws where I miss a guy just to the outside and I throw a high ball to Terrence (Edwards) and it’s tipped,” he said.
“We fought out of it, we just didn’t do enough down the stretch . . . When you can’t get out of our own end zone in the fourth quarter that’s tough. . .
“It stings right now. We’re up two possessions into the fourth and we let it get away.”
Burke said Winnipeg’s turnovers, five including one on downs, made the difference.
“Until our team learns you have to secure the football, we’re just going to go through this every week,” he said.
But, overall, he too was pleased with a lot, particularly the maturity Burke said he saw in the second half.
“I think we just settled down and played more relaxed.”
It didn’t start well for Pierce. On his first throw of the game he was intercepted by Geoff Tisdale and then Chris Jennings ran the ball three yards for Montreal’s first touchdown.
Burke suggested he might have been a little too pumped up but Pierce insisted that wasn’t the case.
Tyrone Carrier then returned Mike Renaud’s 39-yard punt 77 yards for Montreal’s second touchdown at 4:50.
Justin Palardy kicked the first of his three field goals and Winnipeg finally scored its first touchdown after Washington picked off a bouncing overthrow from Calvillo and ran it back 49 yards.
Pierce connected with Chris Matthews to make it 14-10. Matthews, the CFL’s outstanding rookie last season, was confirmed as a starter only Thursday morning.
Winnipeg picked up a single on a Renaud punt into the end zone to start the second quarter but Pierce was intercepted again.
Calvillo was sacked on the following drive and had to settle for a 36-yard field goal from Whyte to make it 17-11.
A fumble on Winnipeg’s next play handed the ball back inside the Bombers’ 40 but again their defence held Montreal to a field goal.
Whyte conceded a safety at 10:58 to bring the Bombers within a touchdown again but his short field goal made it 23-13 as the first half ended, with the Alouettes stalled once more at the goal-line.
Pierce brought the Bombers within three at the start of the second half, thanks to a 65-yard reception from Jade Etienne and an eight-yard touchdown pass to Clarence Denmark.
Then Washington brought the crowd to their feet with his 80-yard run and goal-line dive to put the Bombers ahead 27-23 near the four-minute mark.
Palardy added a field goal a few minutes later to make it 30-23, Montreal picked up a single, and then Palardy kicked a 48-yarder before the end of the third quarter to make it 33-24.
Then it was Calvillo to Green and Whyte’s coup de grace.
Montreal stalled at Winnipeg’s goal-line several times but slotback Jamel Richardson said they are still learning their new offence.
“It really wasn’t them, it was us. we’ve got a new offence and we just need to continue to chuck away at it, right down the field, and . . . capitalize on it.”
This was the second game but the official opening for the new $200-million stadium on the campus of the University of Manitoba. The Bombers played their first exhibition game there June 12.
As part of the celebration, an Olympic-style run ended Thursday evening at the stadium after 400 runners spent six days traversing a good chunk of southern Manitoba. Instead of a torch, they carried a football.
The opener featured a Manitoba-born headliner as well. Tom Cochrane, a native of Lynn Lake, provided the half-time entertainment with his band Red Rider.Report Typo/Error