On a night that felt like normal again in Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers began their Grey Cup defence in style, with a win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that looked very similar to their championship win in 2019.
A dominating defence and a strong run game lifted the Bombers to a 19-6 win over Hamilton in front of 29.376 fully vaccinated fans at IG Field.
Receiver Kenny Lawler caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Zach Collaros and Winnipegger Brady Oliveira, filling in for an injured Andrew Harris at running back, rushed for 126 yards on 22 carries.
“I used to come to games here when I was a kid and sit in the stands and watch games and now that I’m able to actually experience it and go out there and actually soak it all in,” Oliveira said.
“I had so much fun out there tonight. It was truly amazing, a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life. And this is only the beginning.
The Ticats were held to 297 yards of offence and turned the ball over three times.
Hamilton started with a bang, however, opening the scoring on their first drive of the game as Masoli found Jaelon Acklin for a 37-yard touchdown to give the Tabbie a 6-0 lead less than five minutes into the game after the two-point conversion was missed.
But it would be the only points they would get.
The Bombers responded late in the first quarter when Collaros found Lawler in the endzone for a 25-yard major and the extra point put Winnipeg up 7-6.
A promising Ticats drive early in the second quarter which brought them down to the Winnipeg 22 was snuffed out by the reigning defensive player of the year, Willie Jefferson, who picked off Masoli.
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And then Lawler struck again late in the 2nd quarter, catching a 28-yard TD pass. The receiver finished with 69 yards on 4 receptions along with his two majors.
Those would be the only touchdowns of the game as the Blue and Gold added another five points in the second half on a Hamilton conceded safety and a Tyler Crapigna 15-yard field goal.
Crapigna, making his Bombers debut, was good on his lone FG attempt and made both converts.
Bombers WR Nic Demski led the team in receiving with 70 yards on 5 catches while Collaros finished 18/28 for 217 yards and 2 TDs with no picks.
The win comes despite no Harris and no Darvin Adams in the Winnipeg lineup. Oliveira’s start was his first in the CFL and comes off a season-ending injury in 2019.
“I’ve been so hungry coming off that injury,” Oliveira said. “I was running out of the tunnel pissed off, because I wanted everyone to feel me, I wanted Hamilton to feel me, I wanted to make my presence known to the league.”
WR Janarion Grant, CB Josh Johnson, and LB Les Maruo all left Thursday’s game for the Bombers and did not return.
The Bombers are back at home Friday, August 13 when they host the Toronto Argonauts. Pregame show will begin at 5:30 p.m. on 680 CJOB with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
It was the largest event in Manitoba since the pandemic began as only fully vaccinated fans were able to attend. Bombers President and CEO Wade Miller says they were pleased with how prepared fans were, making for a quick entry into the stadium.
“While we had a few issues with cashless payments, we are working with our supplier to address this and correct it going forward,” Miller told Global News in a statement. “The atmosphere, energy and excitement from having fans back in the stadium tonight was incredible and we are so happy to have them back at IG Field.”
The team also unveiled a championship banner prior to kickoff.
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