WINNIPEG — Drew Willy’s fifth start as a CFL quarterback and first regular-season one as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber was a throat-busting tour de force, as he threw four touchdown passes to maul the Toronto Argonauts 45-21 Thursday night.
Aaron Kelly caught two passes for touchdowns as he opened his first full season with the Bombers as a receiver with a 100-yard game.
Cory Watson caught another, backup quarterback Robert Marve ran for a fourth, and defensive back Demond Washington carried a fumble in for a fifth. Canadian receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino, a former Argo, made it six with a seven-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
A 77-yard return by Brendan Smith set up Toronto’s only touchdown in the first half when Ricky Ray hit Jason Barnes for nine yards. They got another on a five-yard pass to Jeremiah Johnson in the second and picked up a single on a kick.
Chad Owens carried a kick back 83 yards late in the second half for another Toronto touchdown to make it 45-21.
Marve’s touchdown was set up by a successful pass interference challenge from coach Mike O’Shea, payback for a similar challenge from Toronto coach Scott Milanovich in their exhibition game June 6, the first time the new league rule saw action.
It was a promising start to the 2014 CFL season for both Willy and the Bombers and also showed the Argos have a lot of work to do to return to their 2012 Grey Cup form.
Willy was a backup for the last two seasons in Regina to Darian Durant and had won only one game as a starter until Thursday.
Toronto’s defence couldn’t put any serious pressure on Willy for much of the game and their offence was hammered by the Bombers, with sacks, forced fumbles, and intercepted or blocked passes.
Ray and Willy both threw 12 for 18 in the first half but Willy turned that into 246 yards and three touchdowns. Ray had to settle for 141 and one. Willy finished the game going 18 for 26 for 305 yards to Ray’s 27 for 38 and 283.
Trevor Harris came in for Ray late in the second half and Brian Brohm replaced Willy.
The Argos only real defensive success early in the game was stuffing a Bomber touchdown drive on the one-yard line, forcing Winnipeg to take a field goal.
Penalties also hurt the Argos, who had 16 in the first half alone compared to just two for the Bombers.
Willy got fans cheering right away with a seven-play series, capped with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kelly to make it 7-0 just over four minutes in. About seven minutes later, he followed it with another nine-yard touchdown pass to Kelly to make it 14-0.
Lirim Hajrullahu’s eight-yard field goal with a second left in the quarter made it 17-0.
Willy connected with veteran Canadian receiver Watson on a 27-yard throw to make it 24-0 with about three minutes left in the first half, before Smith finally put the Argos within scoring distance.
Early in the second half, Toronto got called for pass interference after Kelly’s arm was held, preventing him from catching what could have been his third touchdown pass. Marve ran it over on the first try.
The Winnipeg defence was rewarded for the pressure they put on Ray with Washington’s touchdown after safety Teague Sherman forced a fumble.
After a couple of poor seasons, Winnipeg has some work to do to bring back the crowds at Investors Group Field. There were almost 9,000 empty seats Thursday night and at 24,872, only barely beat the 24,000 who attended the Bombers’ pre-season tilt against the Argos three weeks ago.
Bombers president Wade Miller could be seen walking through the stands personally greeting fans Thursday night.