July 22, 2016

Game Recap: CGY 33, WPG 18

Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

They are bleeding, both literally and figuratively. And now the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will head into a new week with a quarterback debate raging in full.

The Bombers were dropped 33-18 by the Calgary Stampeders in front of 24,677 at Investors Group Field Thursday night, falling to 1-4 on the season.

But bigger than the result were the two major storylines which emerged from the Bombers’ 23rd loss in 30 games at Investors Group Field since its opening:

  1. Injuries ravaged both the secondary and the offensive line, with Macho Harris, Chris Randle and Julian Posey all dropping from the air defence and with the offensive line finishing the game with rookie Michael Couture and converted defensive lineman Jake Thomas stepping in for Jermarcus Hardrick (eye) and Pat Neufeld.
  2. And with 8:53 remaining in the game, Bombers coach Mike O’Shea pulled starter Drew Willy for Matt Nichols after his starter was intercepted by Joe Burnett, who then returned the mistake 34 yards for a touchdown. Nichols promptly led the club to its only touchdown of the night on his first possession.

And so, as the club heads to Edmonton next week to face the Grey Cup champion Eskimos, it will do so not only with the pressure to win cranked up by a zillion, but with some major personnel decisions to make in the next few days.

Asked about what went into his decision to change quarterbacks, O’Shea said:

“He threw that pick and it was untimely. We just put Matt in there, let him go at it and then see what he could do.”

And as to who might start against the Eskimos, O’Shea was keeping his cards close to his vest.

Matt Nichols (15) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“That’s a decision that we’ll make later on in the week,” he said. “It was unfortunate, but Matt’s been ready to go as every back-up is. He stepped on the field… Quincy McDuffie has a great return, that gives us a spark and good field position and we capitalized.”

The Bombers trailed 10-3 heading into the second quarter when on the second play of the frame, the club decided to gamble on a third-and-one from their own 44-yard line. The Bombers were stuffed on the ensuing play, but the Stampeders were clearly offside at the line of scrimmage.

The Stamps scored just three plays later and spiked O’Shea’s blood pressure, as he was seen vehemently arguing with the officiating crew about the missed call.

In the post-game, the Bombers boss was quizzed about a potential turning point, and began with that sequence of events.

“A couple, but the first one was the third and short and we don’t get it,” O’Shea said. “We would have liked a stop right there and instead they go in and score about three plays later. Defence if we rise up and stop them right there, we survive that tide.”

The Stamps built a 20-3 lead at the intermission and with three starters out of the Bomber secondary, the home side began the second half with Canadians Brendan Morgan and Derek Jones at the corners, rookie Taylor Loffler at safety, and Kevin Fogg and CJ Roberts at halfback.

That crew, combined, has five career starts.

Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

But with Calgary going conservative offensively, the Bombers defence stiffened and a couple of Justin Medlock field goals had narrowed the gap to 20-10.

That’s when Willy’s gaffe occurred, as he forced a throw into coverage that was gobbled up by Burnett.

“Backed up there… I can’t do that obviously,” said Willy. “Anytime you have a pick-six it’s not good.”

As to his thoughts on whether he’ll take the first snap next week against the Eskimos, Willy added, “I’ve just got to be ready to play. There’s nothing I can do about it except stay ready and execute.

“… That’s not my decision. I’d love to, but…”

Interestingly, at one point the Bombers were trailing 17-3 and Calgary starter Bo Levi Mitchell, who finished the night 29 of 41 for 310 yards, had thrown TD passes. But Willy was nine for 10 at that point with 91 yards through the air. Once again, it was the Bombers inability to establish the run – Andrew Harris had 10 carries for 28 yards – and be productive on first down that was critical.

“We’re just not making plays, we’re not getting it done. Simple as that,” said Harris. “I can’t describe it right now… I have to watch the film. Again, we wanted to focus on getting the run game going and that didn’t happen tonight. We struggled in that aspect.

“It’s tough to put a finger on it right now. We’re just not getting it done right now. I’ve got to get better; we’ve all got to get better.”

Andrew Harris

Willy was 23 of 33 for 234 yards when he was pulled; Nichols finished nine of 15 for 88 yards and a TD strike and two-point convert to Weston Dressler.

“I felt fine,” said Nichols. “Obviously I’d like to be out there under better circumstances. I thought we had some good chances in the game to swing it our way. We’ve just got to find a way to make those plays in all phases and do a better job.

“I went into a good situation; Quincy had a great return and there was a (roughing) penalty tacked on. A couple of completions and we scored. It’s always what you want to do. It’s good to go in and get a touchdown and two-point conversion and get us one score away (at 26-18).

“(Whether he would start next week) is not anything I’m thinking about or my decision. Right now I’ll just do what I always do and that’s come in and watch the film with Drew and talk through it and work together to get each other better.”

O’Shea did not have any updates on any of the injuries post-game, nor did he use it as an excuse.

He began his post-game media session with this:

“Losing stinks. But we’ll get back at it, regroup a little bit and get going on Edmonton.”

And when he was asked about trying to ‘sell’ a message to the team, he quickly cut off the question.

“I don’t sell anything,” he said. “These guys, they believe they’ve got talent. We’ve got to get going. Obviously we’ve got to put something together and get some wins. But we’re 1-4 and recent history shows teams have started off worse and done very well. These guys understand it just takes one win to start and then we get going from there.”




19: Points off turnovers by the Stampeders, including Joe Burnett’s interception return for a touchdown.



76.7: The opposition’s winning percentage – 23-7 – at Investors Group Field since the building opened.

619: Bo Levi Mitchell’s passing yardage total against Winnipeg in two starts this year. The Calgary QB has completed 53 of 78 attempts for 619 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Mitchell is now 30-7-1 as a starter.

14/5/8: The Stamps have now won 14 straight games coming off a bye week; are 5-0 at IGF and have an eight-game unbeaten streak here in Winnipeg.

26:11: Time of possession for the Bombers, meaning the Stamps held the ball for almost eight minutes more than the home side.

2.6: The Bombers rushed the ball 12 times for 31 yards, an average of just 2.6 yards per carry.



Andrew Harris, asked about his frustration level:

“It’s pretty high. But I’ve been around this before. I was 0-5 before and we won a Grey Cup. I’ve been around the worst of it and fought back and been successful. I think it can be done. I think we have the right tools in this room to get it done. We’ve just got to rally around and play our hearts out every day.”