Hajrullahu takes the heat
Team not living up to own expectations, O’Shea says
CALGARY — It will be small consolation to fans, stinging as they are from what many will regard as the win that got away Saturday night at McMahon Stadium.
But for what it’s worth, Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Lirim Hajrullahu — who wore the horns in a 26-25 loss to the Calgary Stampeders — saved perhaps his best performance for after the game.
Hajrullahu — who missed two fieldgoal attempts and a convert — made sure he was the first one available to face the media when the Bombers opened their locker-room.
And instead of making excuses, Hajrullahu took full responsibility for his team’s loss on a night a missed convert — his league-leading fourth missed convert this young season — represented the margin of defeat.
“I’m trying to do my best out there and I, obviously, fell short today,” said Hajrullahu, adding he shares fans’ bewilderment with why he’s been having so much trouble with the pointafter-touchdown converts that are now being kicked from the 32-yard line this season, even while kicking field goals from 49 yards (Saturday) and 50 yards (last week).
“I’m asking myself the same question,” said Hajrullahu. “I think it’s just the mental challenge and I have to get over it.”
While Hajrullahu wore the biggest target, there were other Blue Bombers players who made key errors that led to this loss.
A bone-headed fumble on a punt return by Troy Stoudermire, for instance, came with Winnipeg up 16- 0 and sparked what was ultimately a 23-point Calgary run.
“I made a huge mistake in the first quarter, and it cost my team big,” said Stoudermire. “I take full blame for it. I should have had more ball protection on it. I wish I could have that play back.”
And with the Bombers trailing 26-25 late in the fourth quarter, the Winnipeg offence had the ball secondand-four on the Calgary 45-yard line when quarterback Drew Willy took a horrendous time-count penalty that cost the Bombers a down and forced them to attempt a 52-yard field goal on the next play.
Hajrullahu missed the long field-goal attempt and Willy took full responsibility for putting his kicker in a bad position.
“I had enough time to get (the play) off — that’s on me,” said Willy. “I saw them in a cover-zero (defence) and I was just trying to communicate to the receivers what we wanted to do and just didn’t get it off.”
But no sooner had Willy taken responsibility for the time-count violation than Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea stepped forward to say the blame rested with him.
“When I realize the ball’s not being snapped, I’ve got to call a timeout at that point,” said O’Shea. “We were in a position to get another first down and kick a field goal with no time left on the clock.”
O’Shea, who’s normally upbeat even in the most disappointing of losses, was more blunt than usual with his words after a road game Saturday — by universal acclamation — the Bombers felt they should have won.
“It’s sickening,” said O’Shea. “We had a team like Calgary on the ropes and we let them off the hook. We’re not smart enough. We need to play smarter football. And they all know it.
“The positive out of it is these guys all expect way more out of themselves. The sense, compared to last year, is different — it’s really different. They expect to win this game — they really do.” email@example.com
Twitter: @PaulWiecek As Jon Cornish goes, so go the Stamps, who are almost unbeatable when Cornish rushes for over 100 yards. A big second half saw Cornish finish the night with 120 yards rushing and an 8.0 yards per carry average. The Bombers special teams wear the horns for this loss, coughing up the ball twice in the first half and gift-wrapping Calgary 14 points. The first special teams turnover was made by Bombers returner Troy Stoudermire, who fumbled a punt return in the first quarter that led to Calgary’s first TD (and two-point conversion). And then in the second quarter, Calgary special teamer Adam Berger blocked a punt by Hajrullahu and Stamps teammate Adam Thibault returned it 10 yards for another Calgary touchdown (the convert was no good). Throw in two missed field goals and a missed convert by Hajrullahu and that was the ball game.
Winnipeg QB Drew Willy hands the ball off to Paris Cotton during first- quarter action in Calgary Saturday night. Cotton finished the game with 56 yards on 10 carries.