VANCOUVER – Sergio Castillo made his coach look good Saturday night.
Castillo’s last-second 41-yard field goal in his CFL debut gave the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a 29-26 come-from-behind win over the B.C. Lions.
The 24-year-old rookie made coach Mike O’Shea’s decision to insert him into the lineup pay off as he made good on all five of his field-goal attempts and helped the Bombers overcome a 23-9 half-time deficit.
“It was a good, great snap play. It was as good as it possibly could be,” said Castillo of the winning kick. “In your mind, your vision, stuff like this, you see kickers like this on TV, so you can prepare for it, no matter what.”
Winnipeg (5-10) moved into a tie with B.C. (5-9) for the third and final playoff spot in the West Division as it posted only its second win in the past nine games.
The Lions have four games left in the regular season, while the Bombers only have three remaining.
The Bombers prevailed after scoring 10 points in the final two minutes. The winning kick from Castillo came after a fake punt, on a direct snap to Jesse Briggs that set up Clarence Denmark’s 15-yard touchdown catch, which Castillo converted.
Winnipeg also received a touchdown from Ian Wild on a blocked punt return early in the third quarter.
Castillo handled place-kicking chores after veteran Lirim Hajrullahu had struggled in a one-point loss to Edmonton. The rookie only joined the Bombers in August after spending a month on Hamilton’s practice roster and bouncing around NFL try-out camps. He honed his craft largely alone in the meantime, while working as an assistant coach and teacher’s aide with troubled youth at a San Antonio high school.
The winning field goal was Castillo’s longest of the game. It came on a do-over after Winnipeg had called a timeout.
“(Castillo) did really well,” said O’Shea. “I’m very happy for him. The guys are excited for him.”
The loss spoiled a strong first-half effort by B.C. quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who tossed three touchdowns while completing 16 consecutive passes. He threw for 307 yards in the first half alone and 372 on the night while going 24-for-31. But he was sacked seven times, tossed a pair of interceptions and could not manage much in the second half as Winnipeg applied more pressure.
Emmanuel Arceneaux caught two of Jennings’ touchdown passes while Austin Collie snagged another.
Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nicholls completed 19-of-34 passes for a modest 179 yards.
“The defence came through in the second half,” said O’Shea. “Huge special teams (performance) obviously. Starting off the second half the way they did just gave us a lot more life.”
Early in the third quarter, Winnipeg pulled within seven points as Wild returned a blocked punt 20 yards for his TD and Castillo converted. Johnny Adams’ 55-yard interception return then set up a 29-yard Castillo field goal, leaving B.C. with a 23-19 advantage.
B.C. went up 25-19 as Winnipeg conceded a safety instead of punting from the end zone. Leone’s punt single in the fourth quarter extended B.C.’s lead by a point, but the Lions could not score again.
“Our guys refused to give an inch, really,” said O’Shea. “I asked (the defence) to shut them out in the second half, and those three points are on me. The safety and a single (are) a coaching decision.”
The Bombers clearly won the battle of special teams with the blocked punt, fake punt and perfect field goals. O’Shea said his club’s special teams units responded after coming under criticism. Meanwhile, the Lions were looking for a much better effort from all units after failing to build a cushion around third place.
“We’re not playing the level of B.C. Lions football that we expect ourselves to play,” said Lions long snapper Mike Benson. “It’s pretty obvious. We need to watch a lot of film. We need to learn from our mistakes and we need to get a lot better.”
Note: Lions No. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay dressed as the backup. He suited up for the first time since suffering a knee injury Sept. 3 in Montreal.