TJ Heath (23) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Shaq Johnson (88) of the BC Lions during the game at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)
VANCOUVER – It looked the same, felt the same, and finished the same.
And in the process, some members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be living the nightmare of last year’s West Semifinal – a game they vowed to put in the rearview mirror – all over again.
The Bombers blew a 42-27 fourth-quarter lead against the Lions – they were up 19 in last year’s playoff game – before falling 45-42 Friday night at B.C. Pace in a game that was part track meet, part slugfest, and featured a sprinkling of special teams trickery and a half dozen highlight-of-the-night plays that made it absolutely riveting.
And just like last November, the game ended with a Justin Medlock field goal attempt – this time from 50 yards, not 61 – falling short on the game’s final play.
“We found a way to lose. We were up 42-27 and have got to find a way to close out that football game,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. “It came down to probably 10 pretty decent mistakes that equal to losing a football game.
“We all took turns doing it… I had one too. Everyone just has to look themselves in the mirror and make sure they don’t continue to make those plays down the stretch.”
The loss drops the Bombers to 2-2 in the uber-competitive West Division, four points back of the 4-0 Edmonton Eskimos and the Lions, now 4-1, while the 2-1-1 Calgary Stampeders are in action against the 1-2 Saskatchewan Roughriders Saturday night.
The difference between what happened Friday and what transpired back in November, of course, were the stakes in play: last year’s loss ended their season. This one is Game 4 of a long campaign and that was the silver lining coming out of the dressing room afterward.
“I know there’s a lot of things we can fix. But we’re going to stay together and get it fixed,” said Bombers right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick.
“It’s early in the season. We’re still confident. We’ve still got our heads high. We’ll be OK.”
“That game was an emotional rollercoaster. But we’re not going to let it bring us down. It’s just the fourth game of the season. There’s a lot we can learn from this one and I’m excited to get better with these guys.
“I just don’t want to have any negativity,” Hardrick added. “We play those guys two more times, but that’s not what I’m looking at; I’m looking at Montreal and getting this taste out of my mouth.”
In a game over-flowing with the bizarre and wacky, a critical play call with 8:39 remaining will be talked about from now until the Bombers line up against the Als next Thursday.
Winnipeg was at their own 26-yard line with 8:39 remaining and facing a third-and-15 when Justin Medlock – apparently having the green light to do so – attempted to hit Derek Jones on a fake punt. But Jones didn’t turn his back to see Medlock and the pass was knocked down by Lions’ defender Dakota Brush.
Asked about it afterward, Jones offered a ‘no comment.’
“It was just a mistake,” said Medlock. “I didn’t throw it well. It happens and you move on. I’m not going to point fingers. I’ll take the blame for it.”
Added head coach Mike O’Shea:
“It got well covered. They spotted it late and moved that guy on over. It’s offensive football. They’re not covering guys and we have to stop them from rushing (the kicker) like they’re rushing and that’s the way to get them.”
That said, it’s also too simplistic to single out one play as the difference.
The Bombers surrendered 45 points and 472 yards net offence, blew the 15-point lead, and – after scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half to erase a 27-21 deficit – then went six straight possessions without picking up a single first down, including a Nichols’ interception with 1:29 left that set up Ty Long’s game-winning 34 yard field goal with :52 remaining.
“It never comes down to that (one play),” said O’Shea. “There were plays we could have made earlier in all three phases.”
THE BIG STAT
18 – Points scored by the Lions in the fourth quarter, to the Bombers’ zero.
CFL head statistician Steve Daniel ruled during the game that a fake field goal attempt by Justin Medlock – he purposely kicked to a spot downfield, with the ball scooped up my Mike Miller and returned 20 yards – was not a miss. That ruling kept Medlock’s consecutive field goal streak alive at 28. But his final attempt from 50 fell short, ending the streak.
Justin Medlock’s six converts pushed him over 1,000 points in his career. He is the 24th CFL player to reach the milestone.
Derek Jones’ punt block in the first quarter was the fifth of his career. The Bombers record for career blocks is eight and held by hall of famer Rod Hill.
32-14: The Bombers were out-scored 9-7 in the first quarter Friday night. Winnipeg has trailed after the first quarter in all four games this season and have been out-scored in the opening 15 minutes by a cumulative 32-14.
9: Total number of points that have determined the last four meetings between these two teams, split 2-2. Winnipeg won both regular season games last year – 37-35 in Winnipeg last October 8th and 35-32 in Vancouver six days later – with the Lions getting their revenge in the West Semifinal, winning 32-31 and then winning by three Friday.
87: Receiving yards for Darvin Adams, on five catches, two of them for touchdowns.
404: Passing yards for Travis Lulay, following up his 439-yard effort in relief last week after a first-quarter injury to starter Jonathon Jennings.