Bombers tangle with Tiger-Cats

Jul 1, 2015 - 2:32 PM Winnipeg, MB (Sports Network) - Last season the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the East Division title and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brought up the rear in the West Division standings, but those results will have little baring when the teams meet up at Investors Group Field on Thursday night.

Hamilton managed to rise above the rest of the division in 2014 despite losing the first three games on the schedule and posting a mark of only 1-6 out of the chute, which should be more than enough reason for the 'Cats to brush off their heartbreaking 24-23 setback in the season opener versus Calgary.

Considering the offense failed to get the ball into the end zone versus the Stampeders during the rematch of the 2014 Grey Cup title game, Hamilton had to be somewhat satisfied that it was still in the lead coming down the stretch before Rene Paredes booted the game-winning 50-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

Hamilton, which was saddled with 15 penalties for 105 yards, was under the command of quarterback Zach Collaros, who connected on 27-of-38 passes, for 281 yards, but he was picked off once and sacked three times. The interception came in the third quarter and was returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Calgary's Keon Raymond.

The sure-handed Andy Fantuz was in his sights the entire game, leading to nine catches for 83 yards. Unfortunately, the running attack was nowhere to be found for Hamilton as the team generated just 37 net yards on 13 attempts.

The lackluster effort coming out of the backfield is nothing new for the Ticats, as they finished second-to-last in the league with only 304 rushing attempts in 2014, scoring only 10 majors in that manner.

Johnny Sears Jr. staked his claim for player of the week honors as he picked off a pair of passes, returning one 76 yards for the first score of the game. Brandon Banks, who torched opponents last season with his kick return exploits, brought back a pair of punts for TDs in the contest, although only one of those held up.

As for the Blue Bombers, a team which was 5-1 after six games last season, before losing all but two of the rest of the games on the schedule, they were up against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the opener and managed to squeeze by in a 30-26 final.

Quarterback Drew Willy, who was named one of the top performers in the league for the week, connected on all but three of his 25 pass attempts for 325 yards and three touchdowns in the triumph. In fact, it was an 18-yard connection from Willy to Nick Moore midway through the fourth quarter that put Winnipeg over the top in the close call.

Moore tied for the game high with six catches and 94 yards, the latter matching Clarence Denmark, who averaged 18.8 yards on five grabs for the visitors. Paris Cotton accounted for four receptions, leading to 59 yards and a major, along with carrying the ball 13 times for a game-high 108 yards as well.

Winnipeg, which knocked out Saskatchewan quarterback with a season-ending Achilles injury, survived 14 penalties for a hefty 167 yards.

Willy is coming off a 2014 campaign in which he finished third in the league in passing with 3,769 yards as he completed 63.8 percent of his attempts. However, the signal-caller posted an efficiency rating of only 83.9 percent due to the fact that he had more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14).

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bombers didn't help themselves by allowing 338.6 ypg (second-most) either, which is one of the main reasons why, after the first six weeks of the campaign, everything began to fall apart.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hamilton's defense was one of the best in the league in 2014, placing second with just 314.2 ypg allowed, and surrendering 21.9 ppg which was considerably better than the league-high 26.7 ppg being given up by the Blue Bombers.

These two teams will meet up in Hamilton during Week 7 for their only other regular-season contest.

Last season the squads split a pair of contests as Winnipeg picked up a narrow 27-26 win on the road at the end of July and Hamilton returned the favor two months later, 16-11.

In that first meeting, the Tiger-Cats scored in every quarter, but needed a two-yard TD pass from Willy to Nic Grigsby with time running out, followed by a successful PAT by Lirim Hajrullahu, to get them the win.

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