CALGARY -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders are set to meet under the bright lights of McMahon Stadium on Friday night, as the Blue and Gold look to notch Tim Burke’s first win as a head coach in what won’t be an easy road test.
Burke found himself on the losing end of a last-second thriller in last Sunday’s Banjo Bowl at Canad Inns Stadium, as the Bombers let one slip away in just about every sense of the word.
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Ahead by a point with half a minute to go and inside Rider territory, Burke elected to punt instead of try a 42-yard field goal going with the wind that, if converted, would’ve widened the gap to four points.
Instead, Mike Renaud’s attempt to pin backup quarterback Drew Willy and the Riders inside their own 10-yard-line failed, as the punt sailed through the end zone for a single point and gave the Green and White the ball up at the 35-yard-line.
Willy drove into field goal range to set-up a last-play field goal attempt from Sandro DeAngelis, and the rest is history.
There’s no telling whether the outcome might’ve been different had Burke elected to try a field goal, but the new ringleader in Winnipeg admitted he made the wrong call.
“I’ll be honest with you, in retrospect I should’ve kicked the field goal,” said Burke, who now has two games under his belt as a head coach. “I played it too conservative.”
Either way, it was another close loss against a good football team, which ultimately showed these players are serious about playing winning football.
Last week's outing was seemingly Winnipeg's entire season in a nutshell; as they have seen several of their losses arrive in the final stages of the game.
They led through most of the second half on July 18th in Toronto, but a late Ricky Ray strike to Jason Barnes and then an interception by Alex Brink sealed the Bombers’ fate in that one.
On August 24th, since known as Paul LaPolice’s last game, the Bombers went toe-to-toe with the league’s top team, a seemingly unbeatable BC Lions squad, before letting Travis Lulay drive into field goal range with less than half a minute remaining for a game-winning kick.
Then there was Sunday’s Banjo Bowl. Another classic for the history book, added to the rest of the rivalry’s lore.
Considering the result on Labour Day Weekend, a 52-0 loss at Mosaic Stadium, Sunday’s letdown was far from the worst this season. While fans aren’t as likely to come to terms with it, the players know they put forth a winning effort last weekend.
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“We showed a lot of character,” said quarterback Joey Elliott, who’s getting his first prolonged stint as a starting quarterback in the CFL. “It was up and down, we had to face a lot of adversity throughout the game. I thought the defence responded really well.”
Elliott continued to show progress, putting his poise on full display against the Riders with 241 yards and no turnovers on 19-33 passing.
As a team, the Bombers showed a lot of heart and a hunger for winning – something that was missing two weeks ago.
“I am proud for how we fought,” said defensive lineman Kenny Mainor, who had two of his team’s six sacks on Willy in arguably that unit’s best game of the season so far. “I’m proud of everybody, how we fought this game – we played with some pride.”
For the Bombers to have success in Calgary, it’ll be important to focus on the things that went right against the Riders, and look to continue doing those things.
Meanwhile, after coming out on the losing end of close games too many times this season, being able to close out games becomes a priority on both sides of the ball.
“We played a very good game for the 59 minutes and 30 seconds, so we’ve just got to finish games out,” said Jovon Johnson. “You can point out all of the things that went wrong, but at the end of the day the defence was on the field when everything went wrong. We’ve just got to be better.”
For the Stamps, Friday night will be about looking to extend a three-game winning streak in front of what should be an energetic crowd at McMahon Stadium, where they’ll play for the first time since winning 31-30 on Labour Day.
Most prominent in the team’s success lately has been its ability to run the football, with non-import running back Jon Cornish beginning to get separation in the league rushing yards race.
The 27-year-old New Westminster, B.C. native has 827 rushing yards this season, with 415 – more than half his total – coming in just the last three games alone.
Cornish earned Canadian Player of the Week honours for the third straight week, after a career-high 185-yard rushing performance last Friday night against a stingy Edmonton run defence.
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The Stamps finished off their regular season on a high note, as Drew Tate finished with 207 yards and a touchdown on 15-28 passing en-route to a 30-24 win over the Bombers. Buck Pierce got the day off for the Bombers, but Alex Brink was solid in his place with 202 passing yards and a touchdown on a turnover-free day from the second-year pivot. The two teams were fairly evenly matched throughout the duration of the game, but the Bombers in the end just couldn't overcome a 17-point first quarter deficit. Juwan Simpson led the way on defence, with an impressive game-high 10 tackles.
“He’s had some excellent games,” commended head coach and general manager John Hufnagel. “The offensive line has done an outstanding job of giving him an opportunity to get to the second level and to do some damage. We’ve had excellent blocking downfield by our receivers.”
“It’s been a good team effort helping Jon get the yards he’s gotten over the last month.”
Cornish, too, pointed out the play by his offensive line — the same unit he challenged by calling them out to the media after a 34-8 home loss to the BC Lions back on July 28, in which Cornish finished with six carries for minus one yard.
“It’s been great,” he said. “They’re all gelling and they’re all getting along great. It’s great to see them laughing and getting in on that.
“It’s really nice to have the same group of guys that know what they’re doing. They came together and this is what happened.”
Still, as good as Cornish has been for the Stamps in the past month, this season’s overall success likely wouldn’t have been possible without veteran pivot Kevin Glenn.
Glenn has the second best completion percentage among starters this season at 67.4, and sits fourth in the league in touchdown passes with 13. What’s been most valuable from Glenn, his leadership and past resume in this league, doesn’t show up on the stats sheet.
“Kevin’s done exactly what I’ve expected him to do,” said Hufnagel. “When I made the trade (with Hamilton in exchange for Henry Burris and offensive lineman Mark Dewit), I wanted a veteran quarterback with a lot of wins under his belt and that’s Kevin.”
The 33-year-old already has 196 games under his belt over the span of 12 seasons in this league, and finds himself once again leading a team that appears to be a strong contender to be in the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto.
“He’s responded very well,” Hufnagel said. “He’s done an excellent job managing the game and keeping us in the game and keeping faith. Obviously, he shrugs it off, goes out, and refocuses on the next play very well.”
Glenn will have a bit of a different-looking receiving corps on Friday, as injuries to Arjei Franklin and Romby Bryant could mean Maurice Price will be making his CFL debut, after having to sit the first two months out with an injury.
Speedy non-import receiver Anthony Parker is also expected to find his way into the Stamps lineup for the first time since August 9th.
Kickoff is at 9:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Postmedia and BlueBombers.com
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