Pierce, Bombers rally to beat Argos
Argos QB Lemon left the game in the first quarter
Redemption never felt so good for Terence Jeffers-Harris.
Jeffers-Harris scored two touchdowns, including the winner on an 84-yard passing play to rally the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 33-24 win and spoil the Toronto Argonauts home opener Saturday.
Last week, the sophomore receiver shouldered the blame for Winnipeg's 21-20 loss to the Calgary Stampeders. It was his untimely fumble that resulted in backup quarterback Joey Elliott suffering a season-ending knee injury after making the tackle.
On Saturday, Jeffers-Harris took Buck Pierce's short pass, broke two tackles then sprinted down the sideline to give Winnipeg (3-1) a 27-24 lead at 1:51 of the fourth. More importantly, it came just 51 seconds after Chad Kackert's two-yard run put Toronto (1-3) ahead 24-20.
Jeffers-Harris finished with five catches for a game-high 107 yards.
"You could call it that," Jeffers-Harris said if this was a redemption game for him. "I'm just here to pick my team up, that's what it's all about.
"That [84-yard TD] was all about making the most of my opportunities. I had a chance to get the ball in my hands, get upfield, do the best I could and stay on my feet."
Winnipeg's comeback was a bitter pill to swallow for the 21,189 spectators, who sat in warm and muggy conditions with the Rogers Centre roof closed due to excessive heat. They also had to endure watching the opening half in a smoky haze thanks to pre-game fireworks.
But Pierce was a galvanizing figure for Winnipeg. Not only did he throw three second-half TD passes to erase a 17-6 half-time deficit, he took a late hit from Toronto defender Ejiro Kuale in the third that resulted in Kuale's ejection and energized his teammates.
"The whole offence was fired up after that," Jeffers-Harris said. "We were very mad."
The issue of late hits against Pierce is a sensitive subject for the Bombers, and with good reason. Injuries have dogged Pierce throughout his CFL career and last year he was limited to just five starts with Winnipeg due to knee and elbow ailments.
Bombers' coach Paul LaPolice said he couldn't comment on Kuale's hit because he didn't see the play.
But last week, Calgary was twice flagged for roughing the passer before a thigh bruise sidelined Pierce at halftime.
"I expect to get hit like that nowadays," Pierce said. "I've watched games and everybody gets hit late.
"Mine just seem to be louder. Maybe they're just louder to me but they're good, solid hits on me. But I thought it was important we stepped up when someone challenges you."
Pierce's play certainly spoke volumes as he finished a sparkling 22-of-28 passing for 361 yards and three TDs. He also added 24 yards rushing on six carries as Winnipeg improved to 2-0 versus Toronto this season.
"That's very big," Pierce said. "We have to play well against division rivals.
"The East looks tough so we have to bring it every week."
Argos head coach Jim Barker said Kuale's ejection was crucial.
"He plays hard," Barker said of Kuale. "It may have been a little late but ejections are game-changers.
"How he [official] knows it was intentional, you have to ask him. Do they want us to change how we play? It is what it is."
Lemon exited early with tooth injury
A helmet-to-helmet hit sidelined Toronto starter Cleo Lemon just six minutes after the opening kickoff.
Lemon started impressively, guiding Toronto on a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive on its opening possession, capped by Kackert's 11-yard run. Lemon was 5-of-5 passing for 58 yards on the possession.
But he was forced out on Toronto's second possession. Winnipeg linebacker Joe Lobendahn delivered a glancing blow to the side of Lemon's head following a 15-yard run to the Bombers' 26-yard line. No penalty was called despite the impact knocking Lemon's headgear flying and causing nerve damage to a tooth that prevented him from returning.
Toronto booted a field goal on that drive under backup Dalton Bell. And while Bell's TD pass gave the Argos a 14-point lead to end the first, he never got into sync against the CFL's top-ranked defence. Bell was 13-of-27 passing for 169 yards with two interceptions and also lost two fumbles.
"He [Lemon] was having a great first half," Barker said of his often-maligned quarterback. "Cleo had his tooth knocked to the nerve and they froze it but he couldn't come back.
"That's sad. It was the best quarter he has played."
Lemon's status for next week's game in Edmonton remains unclear.
Bell said while he felt comfortable under centre, he never got into a groove.
"I got thrown in and we moved it down and scored," he said. "But we didn't execute after that.
"I could've been better prepared but I've learned a lot for next week."
Sammy Tranks had the other TD for Toronto. Noel Prefontaine booted the converts and a field goal.
Terrence Edwards, on a 63-yard reception, had Winnipeg's other touchdown. Justin Palardy had four field goals and three converts.
Toronto outscored Winnipeg 17-3 in the first en route to a 17-6 half-time lead. After Kackert's TD, Bell hit Tranks on a 22-yard pass on the final play of the opening quarter, one that saw the Argos roll up 143 net offensive yards.
That came after Winnipeg was first and goal from the Toronto two-yard line but settled for Palardy's eight-yard field goal at 14:32 after Fred Reid was twice stopped short of the end zone.