WINNIPEG – After a couple of days of sadness, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had some smiles on their faces and pride in their voices Thursday night as they honoured late coach Richard Harris with a win.
The Bombers defeated the winless B.C. Lions 25-20 in a game that was dedicated to Harris, their beloved defensive line and assistant head coach who died of a heart attack Tuesday afternoon.
“It was a wave of sorrow we were on top of and we had to dig so deep,” said Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, who had a special bond with Harris.
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“We were so drained, we were so destitute coming into this game. So many guys, we had nothing more to give. We were spent …
“At halftime, we just looked each other in the eye and we knew what we had to do for (Harris) and we were able to pull it off.”
Winnipeg’s defence sacked B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay six times. Five players had one each and defensive tackle Dorian Smith had a pair.
Justin Palardy kicked four field goals and Alex Brink threw a touchdown pass in relief of injured quarterback Buck Pierce, who left the game with a strained calf.
The Bombers move to a 4-1 record for the first time since 2003.
Winnipeg leads the CFL East Division, but Montreal (3-1) can regain a share of first as it travels to play Hamilton (2-2) Friday night.
The Lions last opened the season 0-5 in 1996, when they finally got their first win on their sixth try.
A sold-out crowd of 29,533 at Canad Inns Stadium took in the game, which began with both teams standing together at midfield for a moment of silence and video tribute to Harris, the six-year Bomber coach who began his CFL coaching career in 2001 with the Lions.
As Bomber players headed to their sideline, many raised a hand or pumped a fist toward Harris’s photo on the jumbotron.
“That was a class act from them,” Winnipeg receiver Terrence Edwards said of the Lions joining the Bombers at midfield.
“Everybody around the league has respect for coach Harris. He’s meant so many things to so many people in this league.”
He added it felt great to match the four victories the team had all of last season (4-14).
Pierce said his left calf was strained and was being checked out, but it should be fine for next Friday’s home game against the 4-0 Edmonton Eskimos.
He went to the locker-room after being tackled by defensive end Aaron Hunt during a quarterback draw with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Pierce, who has a history of injuries in his seven-year career, completed 11 of 18 pass attempts for 206 yards and one 82-yard touchdown pass to rookie Clarence Denmark.
Brink replaced Pierce as Joey Elliott, who began the season as Pierce’s backup, is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Brink was 4-of-8 for 52 yards and one TD to Edwards. Lulay completed 16-of-31 for 195 yards.
With B.C. ahead 20-19 late in the fourth quarter, Brink ran for 15 yards and then hit Edwards for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 3:56 to go. A two-point convert attempt failed when Brink’s pass to Cory Watson went incomplete.
The teams were tied 3-3 after the first quarter. B.C. had a 13-6 lead at halftime and Winnipeg was ahead 19-14 going into the final quarter.
Denmark’s TD was his first, while Palardy connected on field goals from 41, 20, 38 yards and 24 yards.
Lions kicker Paul McCallum also made all four of his field-goal tries from 25, 40, 37 and 46 yards and had a punt single. Running back Jamal Robertson scored his third touchdown of the season.
The Lions had four sacks, all on Pierce. Hunt had two of them.
The defensive end thought Harris’s tribute affected both clubs.
“They came out with a “ot of emotion because of him and I think we did, too,” Hunt said.
“A lot of players know him and a lot of coaches know him, too. I think tonight we both played for him, but they actually came out with a victory.”
Lulay said the Bombers were inspired.
“I can’t speak for what they went through, that’s obviously a tough thing,” he said. “I can only imagine my reaction would be wanting to just play and leave everything on the field.”
The Lions started last season 1-7, but rallied seven wins over their last 10 games to finish third in the Western Conference. They lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in double-overtime in the West semifinal.
“We need to make those plays in the game,” Lulay said.
“A big part of it now when you’re losing is you just have to do it, kind of validate your work and what you’re doing.”
Bomber head coach Paul LaPolice said the locker-room was very quiet before the game. He showed the players some video of NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s game after his dad’s death to prove they could get through their anguish.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated that B.C. started last season 1-8 instead of 1-7.