THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON -- Rookie Stampeders quarterback Drew Tate was shouldering much of the blame for Calgary's 33-19 loss to Edmonton in Sunday's CFL West Semi-Final.
"My fumble,'' Tate said when asked what he thought the turning point was in the game. "If I don't fumble, we probably win this game. Bottom line.''
Tate, who took over Calgary's starting role from last year's MVP Henry Burris for the final three games - all wins - had his team ahead 8-3 and driving towards another possible score when he just dropped the ball. Edmonton linebacker Damaso Munoz scooped up the fumble and ran 77 yards for the touchdown that put the Eskimos ahead to stay.
Asked if he just dropped the ball, a disheartened Tate replied, "Yep.''
A slippery ball? "Yep''
Calgary head coach John Hufnagel deflected away from his young quarterback, saying the fumble was not the pivot play.
"We still had 45 minutes of football left. It was a situation where we could have scored, but it was not the determining factor.''
Tate was the unknown factor for Edmonton going into Sunday. The Eskimos had expressed concern in days leading to the game because they hadn't played against Tate and hadn't seen much film on him. Turns out they didn't have to.
Tate completed just five of 10 passes for 99 yards and one interception in the first half he played. He led the Stamps to just one major score, a five-yard touchdown run by Jon Cornish that finished off a four-play, 78-yard drive that put Calgary up 8-3 after the first quarter.
He had another potential scoring drive ended by an interception and yet another by a dropped pass by a wide open Johnny Forzani. He appeared to hurt his knee on this final play, an eight-yard run that came up short of a first down and left Calgary to settle for their second single.
Hufnagel said Tate wasn't hurt and that wasn't the reason for going back to veteran Henry Burris for the second half.
"Well maybe his pride got hurt,'' Hufnagel said of Tate. "We changed quarterbacks to try to change some momentum on offence. We ran the ball very well, especially in the first half but we had the two turnovers that prevented some good things happening, or better things happening. We just weren't making plays, a mixture of protection breaking down a bit, a bad throw, things you can't do against a good football team and still win.''
Burris wasn't much better. He completed seven of 15 passes for 79 yards but couldn't get the Stampeders into the end zone.
There were a number of pivotal plays in the game and most of them went against the Stampeders. Punt returner Larry Taylor broke loose for a 63-yard return in the first quarter but got run out of bounds by Weldon Brown, the last Eskimo.
"We had guys set up, they made some good blocks, gave me a lane,'' said Taylor who had 174 yards in nine kickoff and punt returns. "One guy away. That's what the game's about, inches. An inch in front of him or an inch left of that guy, it's a touchdown. But they played a great game. They executed, deserved it.''
And there were penalties that hurt Calgary, especially a roughing-the-kicker call on a punt that kept alive an Edmonton drive that ultimately resulted in a four-yard touchdown pass to Jason Barnes with four seconds left in the first half, giving the Eskimos a 25-9 margin.
"In this type of game you can't have penalties but penalties are a part of the game,'' said Taylor. "We fought hard and came up short. It came down to a couple of plays and they made more plays tonight and ended up winning.''
"It was frustrating but it's football,'' said Tate. "You have to respond. Hank came in and responded, brought the guys back to within a touchdown. But there's nothing to say, we didn't win.''