By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were looking for one thing this week — respect.
Coming into Thursday night’s tilt with the 1-1 Calgary Stampeders, the 2-0 Blue Bombers were clear underdogs, looking to show the entire Canadian Football League they were truly a much-improved team from last year’s 4-14 edition.
The critics will analyze this one in many ways, but ultimately Winnipeg fell just short, losing 21-20 following a missed 44-yard field goal attempt with 24 seconds remaining in the game.
“When you face a good football team… you can’t have turnovers that equal points,” said Winnipeg head coach Paul LaPolice following the game. “Our turnovers (happened) in bad field position.”
Winnipeg committed three total turnovers, including two interceptions and a very costly fumble by Terence Jeffers-Harris that led to Calgary’s game-winning touchdown.
“We found a way to get ourselves a chance to kick it at the end of the game,” added LaPolice. “But unfortunately we didn’t get close enough.”
The Bomber offence continues to struggle. Coming into Thursday they ranked last in the CFL — even with Fred Reid leading the league with 150 rushing yards. Buck Pierce has been less than impressive, ranking eighth in both completions and yards.
Defence remains Winnipeg’s strength. Thursday, they were pitching a shutout until a Calgary field goal midway through the third quarter, and kept the Stampeders to 237 net-yards of offence.
Before leaving the game with a quadriceps injury at the half, Buck Pierce went 9-of-16 for 149 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
Pierce was unavailable to the media following the game.
Pierce’s second quarter pick was returned 66 yards for a touchdown by Calgary’s Keon Raymond, making it 7-4 Stampeders. It was their only lead until their game-winning 14-yard strike from Henry Burris to Ken-Yon Rambo in the final minutes.
Winnipeg’s number-two signal caller, Joey Elliott, came in and did a decent job managing the game in place of Pierce. He led a drive in the game’s final minute that put Bomber kicker Justin Palardy within 44 yards for a potential game-winning field goal with 24 seconds left.
“That’s the situation you want to be in,” said Elliott. “We got a great kicker here in Justin Palardy. Last week he missed a few, came back and won the game for us. I’ll put the guy out there every time to kick the game-winning field goal. I’ve got 100 per-cent trust in the guy. He’s going to win the game for us down the road.”
Elliott finished his day 10-of-18 for 87 yards, and was visibly limping off the field.
Winnipeg now has a long week — nine days to get their two hobbled quarterbacks healthy before visiting Toronto on Saturday, July 23.
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On the game’s opening play Blue Bomber defensive back Alex Suber made a brilliant tackle on Calgary’s opening kick return, but was forced to leave the game. TSN reported that Suber swallowed his mouth guard on the play. Coach LaPolice said, “he got banged pretty good in the head.” Nobody with the Blue Bombers would confirm TSN’s report.