Winnipeg Blue Bomber QB #18 Dru Brown is tracked down for a short gain in the closing moments of their game Saturday, November 20 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alberta. The Bombers had to punt after the play and the on the resulting drive the Stamps made a last play of the game field goal to win 13-12. (CP PHOTO - Greg Fulmes)
CALGARY – They came, they saw, they struggled through a meaningless late fourth-quarter meltdown… and then the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quickly got the hell out of dodge.
The Bombers wrapped up their 2021 Canadian Football League regular season with a 13-12 loss to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 19,103 at McMahon Stadium – Winnipeg’s first visit to Southern Alberta since capturing the 107th Grey Cup on November 24, 2019. The Bombers carried a 12-0 lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t lock up the ‘W’ as Calgary rallied and ultimately sealed the deal with a 27-yard field goal on the last play for the victory.
Worth noting was the absence of Willie Jefferson and Adam Bighill from the defence late in the game, as they were rested in the critical moments.
“We lost and nobody likes it. Nobody likes the feeling,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “That pretty well sums it up.”
Asked for his take on the fourth quarter, he added:
“I kept asking Richie (Hall, defensive coordinator) to bring more pressure and they got us on one. I should have just kept my nose out of it and let Richie call the game the way he was calling it because obviously for the first 54 minutes he had called a pretty damn good game.”
The result means the Bombers finish the season 11-3 after losing their final two games. The club will now have a bye in the first round of the playoffs before hosting the Western Final at IG Field on December 5th. The Stamps, already locked into third place in the division, improve to 8-6 and will be in Regina next Sunday to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Semi-final.
“Our record doesn’t matter now at all,” said O’Shea. “Nothing matters right now. We’ll watch the film, we’ll make the corrections we need to make – there are reasons why we either win or lose, like I always say – and after we get done those corrections it doesn’t matter what our record was going forward. We’ve got one game to play and two weeks to prepare for it.”
The Bombers accomplished what they wanted with respect to Zach Collaros, getting him some game snaps after he missed last week’s game in Montreal and then having him escape the night without an injury. The Bombers’ Most Outstanding Player and the leading contender for CFL MOP honours was behind centre for four series in the first half before giving way to Dru Brown. Collaros finished 7-of-10 for 73 yards and essentially led what would have been two scoring drives, but exiting with the Bombers up 3-0 on a Sergio Castillo 15-yard field goal.
On what would have been the first scoring drive, Collaros connected with Rasheed Bailey for 39 yards as part of series that set the Bombers up with a first and goal on the Calgary two-yard line. Unfortunately, after Brown rushed for a first down he fumbled while attempting a pass and the mistake was gobbled up by the Stampeders.
Brown had a few moments after that, especially running, although his numbers weren’t jaw-dropping as he finishing the night 7-of-14 for 49 yards while rushing seven times for 44 yards.
“I felt good… Osh asked me how I felt, how I was seeing things and I told him that I thought I was seeing the coverages pretty well so he made the decision to take me out,” said Collaros. “They didn’t drag me off the field, but you never want to come out of a game especially when the rest of the guys are out there playing. It’s never easy to do, but I understand it.”
Two bright spots for the Bombers were the work of the kickers, as Sergio Castillo was 4-of-5 in his field goal attempts, connecting from 15, 45, 46 and 50 yards while missing from 52 while Marc Liegghio finished with a 48.2-yard average on nine punts. As well, with both Andrew Harris and Brady Oliveira on the shelf, Johnny Augustine was sensational for the Bombers, rushing for 148 yards on 22 carries and pulling in one pass in a performance he called bittersweet because “I’d rather have a win any day.”
As to whether the two losses in the last two weeks might impact this team’s confidence or swagger, Augustine added: “I’m not worried about that. At the end of the day, I wish those losses were wins, but we can learn from them, we can grow from that. I think this is going to make us even better. Last week’s loss made us better and this week we lost again, unfortunately, but it’s just going to continue to make us better.
“At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done we know what we want, we know what our eyes are on.”
THE BIG STAT: 13
The Bombers held a 12-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter before giving up 13 points down the stretch on a Jake Maier to Luther Hakunavananhu 57-yard TD and two Rene Paredes field goals, including the 27 yarder with no time remaining. The 13 points surrendered in the fourth quarter meant the Bombers did not break the CFL record for fewest points in a quarter.
Kenny Lawler finished with four catches for 41 yards to push him over 1,000-yards receiving for the first time in his career. Lawler finished the year with 64 receptions for 1,014 yards and six TDs and, in the process, became the first Bomber to lead the league in receiving yards since Milt Stegall in 2002.
FYI: The Bombers inactive player was QB Sean McGuire… Safety Brandon Alexander was injured late in the second quarter on a punt-cover play and, after being down for a few minutes, walked off the field under his own steam. There was no update on his status.
209: Yards rushing by the Bombers, led by Augustine’s 148 and including the 44 from Dru Brown and 17 from Nic Demski.
73: Yards passing by Collaros in less than a half of work. He finished with 3,185 yards, ranking him second behind B.C.’s Mike Reilly, who had 3,283. Collaros did lead the CFL with 20 passing TDs.
14: The Bombers had 14 different players register at least one defensive tackle, evidence of how much they were rotating their personnel.
15-2: Proof that the QB starts/won-loss record can be misleading – Collaros started the game and left with the Bombers ahead, but will have the loss attached to his record.
NEXT: The Bombers will meet the winner of next Sunday’s Western Semi-final between the Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Final, Sunday, December 5th at IG Field with a 3 p.m. kickoff.