Janarion Grant returned a pair of punts for touchdowns of 76 and 83 yards in his CFL debut Thursday to help give the Winnipeg Blue Bombers sole possession of first place in the West Division with a 26-24 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.
It was only the eighth time in CFL history a player has scored two touchdowns in a game on punt returns, and the first for a Bombers player. Montreal’s Keith Stokes was the last to do the double in 2002. No one has recorded three.
The Bombers ended a two-game losing skid and bumped their record to 6-2 in front of 25,354 fans at IG Field. Calgary (5-3) had a three-game win streak end.
Winnipeg has won seven straight home games dating back to last season, making it the longest home streak since a seven-gamer in the 2002 and ‘03 seasons.
The Stampeders made it a close contest in the final minutes of the game when quarterback Nick Arbuckle connected with Eric Rogers for an 11-yard touchdown with 2:24 remaining. Rene Paredes was good on the convert to squeeze Winnipeg’s lead to 26-24.
After the Bombers got nowhere on their next possession, Calgary started at their own 45-yard line following a punt. Arbuckle then had a pass tip off the fingers of a teammate into the hands of Winnipeg defensive back Winston Rose with 1:24 to go. Winnipeg moved the ball and ran out the clock.
Winnipeg also got scoring from kicker Justin Medlock, who was good on field goals from 27, 23, 55 and 10 yards, plus two converts.
Arbuckle ran in a pair of touchdowns from 13 and one yards. Paredes also booted a 47-yard field goal and made a pair of converts.
Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols completed 18 of 22 pass attempts for 177 yards with no TDs and no interceptions. Arbuckle was 22-of-35 for 260 yards with one TD and two picks.
Winnipeg led 10-7 after the first quarter, 20-14 at halftime and 23-14 after three quarters.
Grant, a 25-year-old Florida native out of Rutgers University, got into the lineup after an injury and inconsistent play by other Winnipeg returners.
He used a burst of speed to score the 76-yard punt return for a TD at 6:50 of the first quarter, boosting Winnipeg’s lead to 10-0 after an earlier Medlock field goal.
Arbuckle ran in a 13-yard TD at 10:56 of the first, followed by a one-yard run for the major at 2:36 of the second quarter that gave Calgary a 14-10 lead. Bombers defensive back Marcus Sayles was called for pass interference in the end zone before the scoring plunge.
Grant recorded his 83-yard punt return for a TD at 13:22 of the second to make it 20-14. It marked the 16th kick return taken back for a TD in the league this season.
Grant then played a role in Calgary getting an opportunity to move ahead in the final minute of the half when he fumbled a punt and the Stamps recovered at Winnipeg’s 22-yard line.
Sayles had some redemption as he intercepted an Arbuckle pass attempt to Rogers in the end zone with six seconds remaining.
Medlock booted a 55-yard field goal at 3:27 of the third quarter to extend Winnipeg’s lead to 23-14.
Paredes nailed a 47-yarder at 3:12 of the fourth quarter, but Stampeders returner Terry Williams fumbled a punt and Winnipeg recovered at Calgary’s 18-yard line.
The Bombers got to Calgary’s three-yard line, but the turnover only resulted in a 10-yard Medlock field goal at 8:54 for a 26-17 Winnipeg lead.
Winnipeg hosts B.C. next week. Calgary is at home against Montreal for a game where veteran quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell might make his return from a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 3.