Even ugly wins are good, said Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea after his team overcame struggles to beat the Ottawa RedBlacks 36-28 in the expansion team’s CFL debut on the road.
“If you can win ugly, win ugly, it don’t matter, it’s a win,” said O’Shea as the Bombers improved their record to 2-0 to start the season, just one win less than the team managed in all of 2013.
“The guys in the locker-room are just feeling it. A win like that just gets them tighter and tighter together and gets us closer to where we need to be. There’s still lots of work to do . . . but they get that.”
Outside the other dressing room at Investors Group Field, another rookie head coach had less to be happy about.
“We’re incredibly disappointed to lose,” said Rick Campbell. “That was one that was there for the taking. It’s a hard league to win in. You’ve got to make sure you make enough plays to win the game and they made one more than we did.”
Veteran quarterback Henry Burris said they failed at many levels.
“We were way too inconsistent when it counted,” said Burris. “This is a team loss because in every aspect we could have done better.”
With three first-quarter touchdowns, two from running back Chevon Walker and another from slotback Dobson Collins, Burris and the Redblacks jumped into an early lead.
But after that, the Bomber defence pretty well shut them down for most of the game and Winnipeg’s special teams helped to even things up.
Ottawa had two field goals and a single in the last three quarters of football as the Bombers edged closer.
Demond Washington’s 96-yard kick return for a third-quarter touchdown was huge for the Bombers, and running back Nic Grigsby had three touchdowns, including the game winner in the fourth quarter.
“It was awesome getting that feeling back, being able to be the spark plug for the game and help the team finish with a big win,” said Grigsby, who has been out of football for a while after a stint at the B.C. Lions camp in 2012.
An injury to Will Ford saw him get the starter’s spot although his performance in camp also made it a tough decision.
Lirim Hajrullahu had three field goals for the Bombers.
Quarterback Drew Willy smacked his throwing hand, perhaps on a helmet, but says he will be ready to play in Montreal and at no point did he think of leaving the game.
“The third quarter it definitely bothered me but the guys did a good job telling me to keep fighting through it, fighting through the pain,” he said.
“Obviously our crowd wad behind us and that’s tough on any away quarterback.”
The game marked the return of Ottawa to the league it left in 2006 due to money troubles.
That, plus Winnipeg’s win in its season opener, put a few more fans in the seats with a count of 27,553. And they were deafening when the RedBlacks had the ball.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon was on hand for the historic occasion.
“I think we have a great franchise in the Ottawa RedBlacks,” said Cohon, who started working to bring Ottawa back into the league shortly after he became commissioner in 2007.
“When we did that deal, to where they are today, it’s a much stronger league and they’re very happy to be part of something that is growing. And I think they’re one of the big reasons why there’s a lot of excitement this year around the league.”
Unlike last week, when Winnipeg opened its season against the Toronto Argonauts, there was no early Bomber scoring drive. Willy went two and out.
Instead, Burris took advantage of midfield position on his first possession to set up Ottawa’s first touchdown on a four-yard run by Walker to make it 7-0.
He followed it about two minutes later with a 58-second drive and 26-yard pass to Collins and the Redblacks took a 14-0 lead.
Up to that point, the Bomber offence hadn’t managed to get out of their half of the field.
Willy finally connected with Nick Moore for 51 yards to get in scoring range on a six-play 73-yard drive with about four minutes left in the first. Grigsby carried it the last yard to get the Bombers on the board.
But Ottawa wasn’t finished and Walker caught an eight-yard pass to make it 21-7 before the quarter ended.
The RedBlacksstalled in the second with penalties and finished the game with 16 to Winnipeg’s 12, although both lost 120 yards as a result and O’Shea said that’s an area he wants to see fixed.
Winnipeg narrowed the gap with Grigsby’s four-yard run for his second touchdown of the night. Hajrullahu’s 47-yard field goal as the half ended made it 21-17 and he hit with a 16-yarder just over four minutes into the second half to bring the Bombers within one.
The RedBlacks crept ahead on Maher’s single and widened it a little more to 25-20 with his 44-yard field goal just before the third quarter ended. He hit at 19 as well in the fourth to make it 28-20.
Washington’s return touchdown again brought the Bombers within two as Willy missed the two-point conversion, but it was left to Grigsby to deliver the final blow and Hajrullahu’s 37-yard field goal with about 30 seconds sealed the victory.