Blue Bombers secure home playoff date with 23-5 win over Stampeders
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CALGARY — Tristan Okpalaugo accomplished a pair of CFL firsts on Friday.
Not only did Okpalaugo pick up a fumble and score his first touchdown, the six-foot-four, 260-pound defensive end also had three sacks and six tackles to help lead his Winnipeg Blue Bombers (12-6) to a 23-5 win over the Calgary Stampeders.
"Honestly, this is the first time me beating Calgary as a CFL player, so it's kind of big to me and I'm proud of my guys," said Okpalaugo, who signed to play with the Bombers this season after previously suiting up for the Toronto Argonauts in 2014 and '15.
"It felt good because Calgary is one of those teams that they come and play and they play hard. They get their wins."
With the win, the Bombers (12-6) locked down second spot in the CFL's West Division and a home playoff date on Nov. 12 in the divisional final against either the Edmonton Eskimos or Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"It's amazing," Okpalaugo said. "I don't have to go travel to Edmonton or Saskatchewan or wherever it is, but I wasn't even thinking about it. I was just like, let's go ahead and get this win and what happens next week, happens next week."
Rookie defensive back Brandon Alexander had an interception return for a touchdown, while Justin Medlock added three field goals.
Rene Paredes kicked a field goal in the second quarter, while Medlock conceded a safety in the fourth quarter to account for all of Calgary's scoring.
Although Calgary finished the season with three straight losses, the Stampeders (13-4-1) had already clinched top spot in the West Division and the right to host the divisional final on Nov. 19.
"We've got a lot to prove to ourselves," said Calgary coach Dave Dickenson. "There's an opportunity and we've got it at home and we'll face a good team. We've got some time to get better, but right now we're not the team that we need to be. We'll see if we can figure it out.
Andrew Buckley made his first career CFL start for Calgary and completed 13-of-18 passes for 120 yards before being replaced by Ricky Stanzi late in the third quarter. Buckley threw an interception and was sacked four times, while Stanzi also had two passes picked off and was sacked three times.
"Things didn't go our way early on," Buckley said. "We didn't respond very well. There's plays to be made out there we just didn't make. It comes down to us as a team playing together and making more plays than we did."
Dan LeFevour started for Winnipeg in place of injured starter Matt Nichols (leg) and went 13-for-17 for 91 yards before being relieved by Dominique Davis in the fourth quarter.
In cold and snowy conditions, Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris finished with 68 yards on eight carriers to give him a league-leading 1,035 yards this season. He moved past idle Ottawa Redblacks running back William Powell (1,026 yards) and can only be caught by Jeremiah Johnson (886 yards) of the B.C. Lions, who host the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday.
"For me it's a great accomplishment," Harris said. "Ultimately though, the home field was big for us and we got that. We played well in rough conditions. I thought our defence played great and the special teams was great. On offence, we got first downs when we needed to and the run game controlled the line of scrimmage which was big."
Harris also had five catches for 28 yards. His 105 catches on the season set a record for receptions by a running back. He broke the old record of 102 receptions by Craig Ellis of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1985.
Calgary running back Jerome Messam had a chance to win his second straight rushing title, but he only finished with 30 yards on 12 carries to give him 1,016 yards for the season.
On Calgary's second drive of the game, Messam ran for just two yards before Buckley was picked off by Alexander, who ran the ball back 55 yards into the Calgary end zone for his first CFL touchdown.
The Bombers also struggled offensively in the first half until Medlock kicked a 52-yard field goal at 4:51 of the second quarter. With the wind at his back, Medlock booted a line drive that hit the post and bounced through the uprights.
Medlock connected on two more field goals from 22 and 28 yards before Okpalaugo recovered a fumble and ran 51 yards for a touchdown to put Winnipeg up 23-0. Ian Wild sacked Buckley to force the fumble.
"Credit to Ian Wild for getting that strip sack and then I had that good knee bend and picked it up on the run and nobody's catching me after that," Okpalaugo said.
Paredes finally got the Stamps on the scoreboard at 8:17 of the third quarter when he kicked a 27-yard field goal. Medlock then conceded a safety with 4:26 remaining in the game to give Calgary two more points.