The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are going back to the post-season, and they would probably welcome the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as an opponent.
On Friday night at Ivor Wynne Stadium the Blue and Gold clinched their first playoff spot since 2008 with a convincing 26-3 triumph over the listless Ticats in front of 23,268 booing spectators.
Winnipeg, which won all three games against Hamilton this season, improved to 9-5 and now has a magic number of one when it comes to hosting a playoff game. One Winnipeg win or one Hamilton loss in the final four weeks would give the Bombers no worse than second place in the East Division.
The Montreal Alouettes are 8-5 and can keep pace with the Bombers if they can beat the visiting Toronto Argonauts on Monday. The Tiger-Cats, who had a two-game winning streak snapped, fell to 7-7.
The Bombers dominated the contest from the beginning and should have been up much more than 12-3 at the half.
They botched fake plays on a punt and a field goal thanks to a pair of James Green illegal procedure penalties, Cory Watson dropped what would have been a spectacular TD grab in the end zone, and Justin Palardy missed a 39-yard field goal.
Palardy did kick a 49-yard field goal, his longest of the season, and quarterback Alex Brink had a one-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter. Punter Mike Renaud booted a single in the second quarter.
The Bomber defence, meanwhile, was simply smothering, limiting Kevin Glenn and the Ticats to 87 yards of net offence in the first 30 minutes. Justin Medlock’s 27-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter was set up by a long punt return.
Winnipeg put the hammer down in the second half. After Greg Carr turned a hitch screen into 59-yard touchdown run that put the Bombers up 19-3, Brandon Stewart latched on to a Kevin Glenn pass and returned the interception 83 yards for a score.
It marked the third time in three games the Blue and Gold took a Glenn pick to the house, as Alex Suber and Jovon Johnson also turned the trick. The Stewart theft also led to the former Bomber quarterback getting the hook for the second time in three starts against Winnipeg this year.
Quinton Porter took over at quarterback for Hamilton, much to the delight of the crowd, and hit Chris Williams with a 12-yard touchdown toss on his first drive.
The Bombers didn’t flinch, however, and marched right back down the field. Buck Pierce capped the 20-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run, his second of the season.
Chris Garrett had Winnipeg’s first 100-yard rushing game of the season, lugging the leather 18 times for 131 yards.
Renaud, who almost lost his job this week, had a bounceback game as well, producing a 47-yard average on seven punts.
Pierce was good on 16 of 25 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown.
Glenn completed 13 of 20 attempts for a measly 109 yards and the interception Stewart returned for the touchdown.
The Bombers improved to 9-0 this season when they win the turnover battle.