WINNIPEG - The touchdown drought is finally over for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and so is the losing streak.
Not only that, but the body under the white sheet that was the team’s playoff hopes just twitched.
Backup quarterback Alex Brink scored on a one-yard run with 4:27 to go in the third quarter, ending the team’s streak of 239 minutes and 48 seconds — or nearly four full games — without an offensive touchdown.
The major gave the Bombers a 16-9 lead over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and they cruised to a 34-12 win on Friday night in front of 26,577 spectators at a cool and breezy Canad Inns Stadium. It also gave interim Bombers boss Tim Burke his first win in four attempts as a head coach, and he got a Gatorade shower from his players in the final minute.
“It feels great,” Burke said. “I can’t describe to you how good it feels. I’m really happy for the players and the rest of the coaches. I’m happy for (offensive co-ordinator) Gary (Crowton) because he’s taken a lot of hits. I’m glad Buck (Pierce) is back, because he did a great job.”
Winnipeg snapped a four-game losing streak for the second time this season, improved to 3-9 and is now within two points of the Ticats (4-8) in the East Division. Both teams, however, are out of playoff position because the third- and fourth-place teams in the West, the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders, are 5-6 and own the crossover spot.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” left tackle Glenn January said. “We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do. For us to go out there and get a win against an Eastern opponent is nice, but we’ve dug ourselves a hole and we’re making strides in the right direction.”
The Bombers have another Eastern opponent coming to town next Saturday, when they’ll host the Toronto Argonauts.
Friday’s victory looked like it was from the first half of last season. The Bomber offence struggles out of the gate, the defence keeps the team in the game, and then they close it out as a team in the fourth quarter. That was the team’s M.O. last season, but those kind of victories — any victories, for that matter — have been few and far between this year.
Quarterback Buck Pierce won in his return to the lineup after missing eight games with a left foot injury. It’s no coincidence the Bombers ended their touchdown drought, as Pierce improved his mark as Winnipeg’s quarterback of record to 11-8.
“We won it in the fourth quarter. That’s big,” Pierce said. “That’s what I’ve been saying the whole time... let’s get a game that we can win it in the fourth quarter and get some confidence. Let’s have the defence lean on the offence, the offence lean on the defence, and we both lean on the special teams. It’s a team effort. And that’s what good teams can do.”
Pierce’s presence was huge.
“We’re all happy to see Buck back, and for him to be out there and lead the team like that, it was great to see,” middle linebacker Henoc Muamba said.
“He was cool, calm and collected, and had the game in his grasp at all times and never got flustered,” Burke added. “You have to give credit to the O-line, too, because he didn’t have to run for his life. There were times last year where he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”
The Ticats, who have lost six of their last seven, have the league’s worst defence, but Pierce looked solid in completing 21 of 30 attempts for 288 yards and a touchdown, and Terrence Edwards dropped one of his passes in the first quarter.
Chad Simpson had Winnipeg’s first 100-yard game of the season, rumbling for 134 yards on 19 carries, and the Bombers took advantage of 17 Tiger-Cat penalties that resulted in 135 yards.
“With the wind conditions we had to run the ball more,” Burke said. “Once we got it going there was a lot of confidence in it, so we just kept running it then. Gary did a good job of mixing the running game and the passing game.”
Crowton got a game ball from Pierce after the game, while Burke got a game ball from GM Joe Mack, who will sleep a little easier this week.
Kito Poblah scored his first career touchdown with 3:18 to go, hauling in a seven-yard pass from Pierce to put the game out of reach. It was Winnipeg’s first passing touchdown since Aug. 16, when the Bombers also beat the Tiger-Cats at Canad Inns Stadium.
Will Ford notched his second touchdown of the season with 1:55 to go, dashing into the end zone from 17 yards out, and Palardy added a kickoff single with the wind.
It’s only Hamilton, but it’s hope. There hasn’t been much of that around Maroons Road in a long time, and it comes after an embarrassing 44-3 loss last week in Calgary during which players were caught laughing on the sidelines.
“It was big for us to get this win today,” cornerback Jovon Johnson said. “All phases of the game came out ready to play, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to win out and put ourselves in possible contention for playoffs.