Bombers pleased with 1st

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Alex Brink against the Calgary Stampeders during CFL football...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Alex Brink against the Calgary Stampeders during CFL football action at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alberta, on November 5, 2011. (QMI Agency)

Kirk Penton, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The Bombers returned to the shiny new Winnipeg airport on Sunday afternoon and were greeted by 100 or so fans who came out to cheer their first-place team.

Yes, the Blue and Gold backed into top spot.

Yes, they have lost seven of their last 10.

And yes, they have a few issues to address before hosting the East Final on Nov. 20 in the final game at Canad Inns Stadium.

But they went from worst to first, knocking the Montreal Alouettes from their lofty perch. They have one of the best defences in the land, and they get a first-round bye for the first time in a decade.

You better believe the team and its supporters are going to enjoy it.

“It’s great to see the fans, and I know they haven’t had first place in 10 years, so they’re pretty excited about it,” head coach Paul LaPolice said after the team arrived from Calgary. “It means a lot to our players when we come home to this. They’re behind us and have been all year.

“It’s been a lot of work for where we came from last year, and we felt it was something we should be able to do. Over the course of the season we found a way to do it.”

The Bombers finished first in their division for just the second time in the last 17 seasons, but the joy is tempered somewhat by the fact the Bombers lost their last two games, three of their last four and seven of their final 10.

They had a chance to lock up first on their own with a win on Saturday and should have come out flying against the Stampeders, but they trailed 24-0 midway through the second quarter.

They needed the B.C. Lions to beat the Alouettes late Saturday night to secure first, which is exactly what happened.

But the bottom line is this: It is the Bombers’ division to win. There is no reason why they shouldn’t go to the Grey Cup.

They’ve owned the Alouettes and Tiger-Cats, with their only loss to either one of them coming on Sept. 30 when they couldn’t get into the end zone from the one-yard line — twice — against Montreal.

And that is why LaPolice was none too pleased with this reporter for suggesting in Sunday’s paper that the Bombers — or anyone in the East, for that matter — didn’t deserve first place.

He said top spot was decided on Oct. 22 when the Bombers battled back from a 15-point deficit to beat the Alouettes and take the season series.

He has a point, but Montreal lost three in a row to end the season, while the Bombers and Tiger-Cats both dropped their last two.

There have to be doubts in every East Division playoff city.

Winnipeg appears to be divided between hopeful and pessimistic.

Defensive halfback Alex Suber preferred to focus on the positive.

“It feels good,” he said. “I feel like we definitely deserved it. We didn’t want to go out with an L, but that’s the way things went. The way we played throughout the whole season is what mattered.”

Winnipeg’s most outstanding, defensive and special teams player, Jovon Johnson, admitted clinching first place was a “bittersweet” moment.

“We gotta be a lot better,” said Johnson, who led the CFL with eight interceptions this season.

“We gotta pay attention to details and focus on starting fast. We gotta get out of the gates because we can’t get down by that margin of points in the first quarter in order to win games. It’ll be even tougher in the playoffs.”

The benefit to finishing first is they have two weeks to figure it out.


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