Friday’s loss overshadowed a rather gritty performance by a quarterback that many were still wondering whether he could take a hit.
After his own two turnovers were converted into six points, Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce made a statement as he seemed to take over the game, at least offensively. Several times, Pierce escaped from pressure to run for first downs and on one electrifying 43-yard scamper, he scored a touchdown that pulled the Blue Bombers to within 16-14.
Pierce, who took some pretty good licks and was getting attention from the trainers a number of times on the sidelines between series, finished the game with seven carries for 103 yards and the major — which was almost four times as many yards as tailback Fred Reid.
“Buck, he’s a warrior,” said Reid, who was held to 27 yards on seven carries. “I like the way he plays. He’ll take off running and he’s a soldier. He’s got lots of heart and I’ve got much respect for Buck.”
Pierce also passed for 366 yards and three touchdowns, completing 25 of 35 passes, with one costly pick.
“Buck’s out there throwing his body to the wolves and he does a great job,” said Winnipeg centre Obby Khan. “He’s a great leader … It's great to see him running and we can feed off that.”
But Pierce was in no mood to brag about shining in a losing cause.
“We didn’t play four quarters of football,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t play four quarters of football. We started off slow and gave them momentum. That’s when bad things happen. They jumped out on us early and never did we get it all back. So, you’re kind of fighting an uphill battle the whole game.”
Pierce fumbled the ball away on Winnipeg's opening drive, which led to Toronto's first field goal.
“The ball just kind of slipped off my fingertips,” he said. “Those things kind of happen. It’s unfortunate, the early drive, and we get a couple of completions in a row. To have that happen to us, it’s tough. You still have to bounce back from it.”
Two drives later, Pierce was picked off by defensive back Willie Middlebrooks, which Toronto also converted into a three-pointer, taking a 9-0 lead.
“Bad decision,” he admitted.
But Pierce bounced back to first complete a 21-yard TD toss to slotback Terrence Edwards, then scamper for the second major. In the second half, he hooked up with rookie wide receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris for a 60-yard bomb, then completed a 38-yard TD strike to Jeffers-Harris with 16 seconds left in the game.
“Big play here, big play there, and the game swings so fast,” Pierce said. “Offensively I don’t think I performed to where I need to be, consistency-wise. Still got a ways to go.”
Pierce did seem to be under pressure a lot in the early going but head coach Paul LaPolice felt the protection “held up.” However, he was not pleased with the two turnovers.
“Last year, teams that were minus-two in the turnover ratio were 2-14, and we were minus-two,” he said.
“The (Argo) defence is good,” Pierce said. “That wasn’t a surprise coming in. Toronto’s a good football team.”
But Pierce was excited about the way the game ended.
“We’re going to fight and we’re going to strive and we’re going to claw until there’s no time left on the clock,” he said. “We’ll bounce back from this. We’ll be fine. We have character guys here who bounce back from adversity every day. We’re excited about the next week.”
— With files from Kirk Penton