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November 19, 2018

Game Recap | WPG 14 CGY 22

Blue Bombers' QB Matt Nichols during warm-up CFL, West Final action in Calgary, AB, on Sunday, Nov. 18th, 2018. (CFL PHOTO - Dave Chidley)

CALGARY – They traded punches with one of the Canadian Football League’s heavyweights, and left the ring upright, but bloodied and bruised in what was an absolute playoff slugfest.

But there are no silver medals in football and certainly no consolation prizes. And so the cold, hard reality for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is this after a 22-14 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday’s West Final at McMahon Stadium: Another year has been added on the franchise’s Grey Cup drought, now 28 years and counting.

“I’ve never felt like this in my life after a loss,” said Andrew Harris. “I mean… we really have some special here and I know it’s never going to be the same. That’s the part that hurts the most. I just love this group of guys and I wanted nothing more than to win a Grey Cup with this group. I’m sad man, I’m really sad. It’s tough when you care about your teammates so much and the organization and the colours you put on. I’ve been saying this since I’ve been here: it’s more than just football.”

The Stamps may have stumbled a bit down the stretch, but are now headed back to the Grey Cup for the third consecutive year after a dominant defensive performance in which they limited the Bombers to four field goals and a safety and just 245 net yards. The Bombers managed just 156 yards through the air, much of it late, as Matt Nichols completed 15 of 32 for 156 yards – the longest gain, a 27-yard completion to Rashaun Simonise, came with just 49 seconds remaining.

“I feel like our defence deserved better today,” said Nichols. “They did a helluva job, gave us a lot of opportunities. Credit to Calgary’s defence, they played great tonight. It’s difficult… you go into a game like this with no doubt you’re going to win and so when you don’t, it’s a pretty terrible feeling.”

A telling stat, as it relates to the lack of offensive rhythm for the Bombers: the club managed to convert just five of 22 second-down conversion attempts, or 22 percent. Calgary, by comparison, was 11 of 23, or 48 percent.

“They did what they did all year,” said Nichols of the Stampeders defence. “They cover guys up, man. They played good tonight and we just couldn’t quite get into a rhythm. Full credit to them. They out-played us tonight.”

All that said, the game was still there for the taking late. The Bombers kept forcing the Stamps off the field and trailed just 14-11 heading into the fourth quarter before Bo Levi Mitchell pieced together a critical drive that resulted in an Eric Rogers TD reception – his third of the game – with just 3:52 left that put Calgary up 21-11.

The Bombers were lamenting two plays in particular that they left on the field – an overthrow to Darvin Adams that would have resulted in a 29-yard TD in the first quarter and would have put the Bombers up 10-0 (instead they settled for a field goal), and another potential score when Chris Streveler put too much air under an attempt to Andrew Harris, who had slipped behind coverage.

“It really comes down to a couple plays here and there that make the difference in a game like this, and they made them and we didn’t,” said Nichols. “Our guys played so hard tonight. We left it all out there. Tomorrow will be the last time this team is all together… I love this team. I love playing with this group of guys and it’s just disappointing that in pro football it won’t be the same team next year and obviously there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty, as a league, with everything next year. I wanted one more opportunity to play with this group.”

It was a sombre Bombers dressing room afterward, naturally, and an emotional head coach Mike O’Shea who addressed the media after the game.

“You’ve got to give credit to Calgary – they’re a damn good football team,” said O’Shea. “It’s all about the people… it’s not easy. They’ve been on a helluva journey. They’ve all gotten better and all grown stronger. We became a team.”

Calgary’s win sends them to the Grey Cup for the third consecutive season and offers them the chance to erase the nightmares of the last two championship games — losses to the Ottawa RedBlacks in 2016 and the Toronto Argonauts in 2017.

Ottawa, meanwhile, advanced to the 106th Grey Cup with a 46-27 smack down of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Final earlier Sunday.


THE BIG STAT

22: The Bombers managed to convert just 22 per cent of their second down opportunities, five of 22.

FYI

The Bombers two inactives were WR Ryan Lankford and DB Brendan Morgan… Charles Nelson started at SB in place of Kenbrell Thompkins, who was moved to the one-game injured list. Nelson caught one pass for 12 yards, but was busy as a returner, with four kickoffs totalling 64 yards and seven punt returns for 77 yards.

NUMBERS GAME

57: Justin Medlock’s 57-yard field goal to open the scoring was not only his longest of the season, but a CFL playoff record.
85: Net offence for the Bombers in the first half; the Stampeders had 180.
27: Longest play from scrimmage for the Bombers – a Nichols-to-Rashaun Simonise completion with 49 seconds remaining.
11-98: The penalty total and yardage on those penalties, the highest totals for the Bombers this season.
3: Sacks registered by each team. Jackson Jeffcoat had two for the Bombers, Craig Roh the other.