Ha­jrul­lahu takes the heat

Team not liv­ing up to own ex­pec­ta­tions, O’Shea says

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By Paul Wiecek

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.” paul.wiecek@freep­ress.mb.ca

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.

JEFF MCIN­TOSH / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

Lirim Ha­jrul­lahu

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