Spe­cial teams any­thing but

Missed kicks high­light missed op­por­tu­nity at McMa­hon

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

CAL­GARY — The of­fence was pretty good, with the ex­cep­tion of two costly er­rors late in the fourth quar­ter. And the de­fence had ar­guably its best game of this young 2015 sea­son.

But there are three phases to a pro­fes­sional football game and the third one Satur­day night for the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers was a tire fire.

A week af­ter the Bombers spe­cial teams unit blocked a punt and scored a key touch­down in a win over the Mon­treal Alou­ettes, the same unit was noth­ing less than atro­cious in a 26-25 loss to the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers be­fore 29,255 fans at McMa­hon Sta­dium.

A pair of turnovers — a Troy Stou­d­er­mire fum­ble on a punt re­turn and a blocked punt scooped up for a touch­down by Cal­gary — gift-wrapped 14 points for the Stam­ped­ers and squan­dered what had oth­er­wise been a sen­sa­tional 16- 0 start to the game by the Bombers.

And just when it looked in the sec­ond half like Win­nipeg might over­come even those crit­i­cal er­rors, the spe­cial teams unit found yet another way to lose the game as kicker Lirim Ha­jrul­lahu missed a third-quar­ter con­vert and a fourth-quar­ter field-goal at­tempt to go along with an ear­lier missed field goal.

The fourth-quar­ter miss came from 52 yards and was ex­cus­able; the missed con­vert — Ha­jrul­lahu’s league-lead­ing fourth this young sea­son — was in­ex­cus­able and, ul­ti­mately, the dif­fer­ence.

Put it al­to­gether and Win­nipeg (2-2) squan­dered a golden op­por­tu­nity to move to 3-1 and take sole pos­ses­sion of first in the West Di­vi­sion. In­stead, it is the Stamps (3-1) who are in that po­si­tion this morn­ing, while the Bombers are mired in a three-way tie for sec­ond with the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos and B.C. Lions — with Win­nipeg hav­ing played one more game than those two squads. yard line late in the first quar­ter. Four plays later, Cal­gary had the ball in the Win­nipeg end zone and halved the Bombers’ lead to 16- 8.

Four min­utes into the sec­ond quar­ter, Cal­gary blocked a Ha­jrul­lahu punt and Stamps spe­cial-teamer Adam Thibault re­turned the ball 10 yards for another Cal­gary score, send­ing the game to half­time tied 16-16.

A mon­ster 11-play, 107-yard scor­ing drive by Cal­gary in the third quar­ter put the Stamps ahead 23-16, but the Bombers an­swered back quickly on a 79-yard catch-and-run TD by wide re­ceiver Darvin Adams.

Ha­jrul­lahu missed the con­vert fol­low­ing Adams’s TD, how­ever, and the Bombers con­tin­ued to trail, 23-22. The two teams traded field goals in the fourth to make it 26-25.

The Blue Bombers had a chance late, but a time-count vi­o­la­tion penalty on a sec­ond-and-four from the Stamps’ 45 stalled the drive and forced a 52-yard field-goal at­tempt Ha­jrul­lahu missed with one minute 27 sec­onds re­main­ing.

(Bombers quar­ter­back Drew Willy and head coach Mike O’Shea each took the blame af­ter the game for the time­count vi­o­la­tion: Willy said he was try­ing to en­sure his re­ceivers were on the same page and didn’t call for the ball soon enough; O’Shea said it was his fault for not sim­ply call­ing a time­out.)

Cal­gary ran the ball out of the end zone to pre­serve its one-point lead. But the Bombers were not done yet.

Af­ter stop­ping the Stamps of­fence on a two-and- out and forc­ing them to punt with one minute left, line­backer Juwan Simp­son put the fi­nal nail in the Bombers cof­fin, pick­ing off a Willy pass with 23 sec­onds re­main­ing.

JEFF MCIN­TOSH / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Win­nipeg Blue Bombers de­fender Mau­rice Leggett drags down Stam­ped­ers run­ning back Jon Cor­nish dur­ing sec­ond-half CFL ac­tion at McMa­hon Sta­dium in Cal­gary.

Win­nipeg re­ceiver Darvin Adams takes off on a 79-yard catch-and-run for a touch­down Satur­day in Cal­gary.

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