Special teams anything but
Missed kicks highlight missed opportunity at McMahon
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.
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.