TORONTO—Matt Nichols and a tenacious defence have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on a nice roll.
Nichols threw two touchdown strikes while the defence forced six turnovers as Winnipeg dumped the Toronto Argonauts 34-17 for its third-straight win on a muggy Friday night at BMO Field.
“It’s a great roll,” Nichols said. “Anytime you can get a three-game win streak in this league, it’s not easy.
“We were struggling in the first half as an offence,” he admitted. “But the defence kept taking the ball away and putting us in good field position, and allowing us to make those few big plays in the second half.”
Winnipeg (4-4) cemented the win with Nichols’ 79-yard TD pass to Clarence Denmark just 50 seconds into the fourth quarter to go up 27-10 lead.
All three victories have come since Nichols replaced Drew Wily as the starting quarterback.
Nichols was a workmanlike 17-of-28 passing for 246 yards and allowed his first interception since becoming the starter.
But Winnipeg’s defence easily countered that with five interceptions and a fumble recovery, giving it 12 turnovers in the three wins.
“I think we’ve started to learn what it’s going to take to win,” noted Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea.
“That kind of knowledge, that kind of understanding of what it’s going to take week in and week out, is important,” he stressed.
“I thought the first half was kind of hit and miss . . . but we didn’t give up those killer points,” O’Shea added.
“Then they came out [in second half] and had a different resolve.”
But not the result of a stirring half-time speech from O’Shea.
“I don’t say a lot,” he noted. “The players are starting to run that themselves, which is the ideal situation.”
Linebacker Maurice Leggett had two interceptions, including a sparkling 98-yard interception return TD (his second this season) with 6:04 left to play.
Defensive back Kevin Fogg also was solid with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Denmark finished with seven catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
Andrew Harris’ four-yard TD run at 9:57 of the third put Winnipeg ahead 20-10 and pretty much silenced the BMO Field gathering 15,063 on a night when both the Toronto Blue Jays and Tragically Hip were playing nearby.
Denmark is in his second stint with Winnipeg. He spent five years with the club before being released in the off-season.
He signed with Saskatchewan but later was released, allowing him to return to the Bombers.
“We never doubted his professionalism, we never doubted his ability,” O’Shea stressed.
“Once again, I’ll just say it’s a crappy business and we’re very fortunate to have Clarence Denmark back in the fold.”
Harris finished with 123 yards rushing on 19 carries—his second 100-yard performance of the year and just the fourth in the CFL this season.
He’ll have time to relish it as Winnipeg now heads into a bye week.
“I kind of want to keep going but the players need it,” O’Shea said. “We’re grinding them and pushing them physically and re-demanding. . . .
“But they’ll make sure they’re doing what they need to do in the bye week.”
Winnipeg also exorcised a few demons Friday night—earning just its ninth win in 25 games against Toronto (4-3).
The Argos also came in boasting a 7-1 record since 2012 coming off the bye week, having not played since a 23-20 road win over Ottawa back on July 31.
Logan Kilgore threw for 322 yards and a TD against Ottawa in his first CFL start.
But he struggled against the Bombers, completing 26-of-44 passing for 303 yards and a touchdown, but also the five interceptions, before giving way to rookie Cody Fajardo in the fourth.
Fajardo hit Llevi Noel with a 34-yard TD strike with 2:02 to go as Toronto dropped to 1-3 at BMO Field.
But Argos’ head coach Scott Milanovich said Kilgore, who’s replacing injured incumbent Ricky Ray (knee), will start next weekend versus Edmonton.
“This [struggles] is part of growing as a young quarterback,” Milanovich noted.
“One of the hardest things to do—and Ricky will tell you the same thing—is fighting through an off day,” he remarked.
“When it’s not going your way, finding a way to still move your team and still find a way to win a game . . . it’s part of the learning experience for him.”
Justin Medlock kicked three converts and two field goals for Winnipeg.
Diontae Spencer scored Toronto’s touchdown.
Lirim Hajrullahu booted two converts and field goal.
Calgary beat Saskatchewan 19-10 while B.C. topped Hamilton 45-38 in CFL action Saturday.