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September 24, 2016

Game Recap: WPG 34, CGY 36

Matt Nichols (15) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

CALGARY – They were awful and they were spectacular, they were sloppy and crisp. And after the fact, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were blue-in-the-face frustrated with their own effort in a 36-34 loss to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday afternoon that brought to an abrupt end their seven-game win streak.

Shaking off a horrific first half that saw them fall behind 24-zip while barely showing a pulse, the Bombers rallied to take a 34-33 lead on a Matt Nichols-to-Julian Feoli-Gudino TD strike with 20 seconds left, only to see what would have been a remarkable comeback wiped out by a 52-yard bomb of a field goal by Rene Paredes with no time on the clock.

Quick question, then: what best describes a mix of emotions that includes frustration, anger, euphoria and heartache?

“It felt like somebody walked into your house and just took what they wanted while we watched,” said Bombers right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick.

“That ending? That ripped my heart out.”

Jermarcus Hardrick

“It’s been a while since we lost and so it’s a bad feeling right now. It’s a bad taste I want to get out of my mouth right now. I’m ready to play Edmonton.

“We had our chances. Give them all the credit. But we’ve got five games left now and I know we’re going to fight back and all the guys on this team will still stick together because we love each other.”

The loss dropped the Bombers to 8-5, still technically behind the second-place B.C. Lions in the West Division as they have a game in hand at 8-4.

Matt Nichols (15) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The Stamps, meanwhile, built on their streak with their 10th straight to improve to 11-1-1.

Billed as a classic showdown – the combined 16-game winning streak the two clubs carried into the game was the longest in CFL history – the first half was anything but. The Stamps pushed the Bombers around in all three phases of the game in building a 27-7 lead at halftime.

That prompted Stampeders QB Bo Levi Mitchell to say to TSN’s Farhal Lalji at halftime: “We’re showing them who they are right now and we’re going to keep showing them.”

What happened next though, was the Bombers jumping up off the mat and firing some jabs, crosses and uppercuts themselves in actually turning the contest into a legitimate battle of contenders.

And when Nichols connected with Feoli-Gudino with 20 seconds left, the Bombers win streak looked to be about to extend instead of coming to its most improbable ending. But the Stamps got the ball back on their own 29-yard line with 15 seconds remaining and Mitchell hit Kamar Jorden for 14 yards and Lemar Durant for 22 to the Winnipeg 45 to set up Paredes for the last-play heroics.

“We’ve got to find a way to start faster,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that practice week is conducted in a manner that allows us to start faster.

“We made mistakes in all three phases. In the first half our cover teams weren’t tackling, we weren’t playing tough enough and there were enough mistakes to put us in that kind of a hole.”

Chris Randle (8) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The hole only got larger early in the third when the Stamps jumped out to a 30-7 advantage. It was then, it seemed, that the Bombers opted to get into the fight. Winnipeg out-scored the Stamps 27-6 in the final 25 minutes… only to fall short.

“That’s two years in a row that’s happened to me,” began Nichols. “We did the same thing last year against Edmonton and they kicked a 50-something yard field goal with no time left to beat us. The same thing happened today.

“You make a few mistakes and it kind of snowballs against you against a good football team. It’s not one little thing, it’s a culmination of a ton of different things. We weren’t moving the ball on offence, they were dominating the field position battle, they were putting up points and we didn’t do a good enough job as an offence of putting up points when it was our turn.

“This is going to be a tough one (to flush). It’s the same thing when we win games, though. You celebrate it for that night and then the next day. It will probably be the same thing with this. It’s going to sting through today and then when we watch the film tomorrow and then we’ll move on because we’ve got a good Edmonton team coming in next week and we can’t afford any kind of letdown.”

The first half/second half change likely helped dial down O’Shea’s anger afterward. But understandably, he was having nothing of the almost-comeback and the almost-win.

Asked afterward what the message was to his troops, he said:

“Play 60 minutes and have a smile on your face. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. They know I’m proud of them, the way they played in the second half. I loved the way they came out and they played. I love it. Let’s play 60 minutes.”

Tim Flanders (32) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

THE BIG STAT

361: Passing yards for Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell, including 36 yards on two completions inside the final 15 seconds to set up the winning field goal.

FYI

The Khalil Bass fumble recovery touchdown in the fourth quarter – on a play in which Tony Burnett rocked Stampeders receiver Simon Charbonneau-Campeau and in which Shayon Green recovered the fumble and lateralled it to Bass – was the Bombers fifth defensive touchdown of the year.

Maurice Leggett has three interception-returns for scores, while C.J. Roberts also has one pick-six.

NUMBERS GAME

8.6: Yards per carry by Bombers RB Timothy Flanders, who finished the afternoon with 95 yards on 11 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run.

+1: The Bombers turnover ratio in the game, pushing their season total to +26. The club record is +27, set in 1987.

1-14: Winnipeg’s record at McMahon in their last 15 starts. The Bombers are now 3-23 in Calgary dating back to 1992.

6-95: Ryan Smith’s receiving totals, his best as a Bomber.

0-3: The Bombers record in three meetings with Calgary this year, including a 36-22 loss on July 1st and 33-18 on July 21st.

QUOTABLE:

“I don’t really care what they have to say. We’re a good football team. We’re in a tough stretch here to finish the season and put ourselves in a good playoff spot. I look forward to playing these guys again.” – Nichols, responding to the Stamps’ comments, both pre-game and during the game, about sending a message to the Bombers.