By John Gaudes (@johngaudes)
WINNIPEG — A pillar of health in a league where it’s hard to come by, Bo Levi Mitchell has taken the CFL by storm since his first start in 2013. He’s also handled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and did so once again Friday night, as the Stamps overcame a late push from the home team, winning 25-23.
Just like the July 18 tilt in Calgary between these two teams, this one came down to the leg of Winnipeg kicker Lirim Hajrullahu with under a minute left. Once again, though, he missed the long kick. Wide from 50 yards, it sealed the seventh straight Calgary win at Investors Group Field, improving their record this year to 9-3. Winnipeg falls to 4-9.
“It’s unfortunate that I let the team down,” said Hajrullahu. “As kickers, we get excited, especially in a situation like that, you like to see where the ball is going. I think, from mechanics, I looked up too quickly and didn’t finish properly and that was the difference.”
For Calgary, Mitchell was excellent yet again – throwing 27-for-35 for 333 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. His skill players were no slouches either, best among them receiver Marquay McDaniel, who caught nine passes on his way to 159 yards. CFL veteran Jon Cornish also had his way with the Bombers run defence, collecting 94 yards on 16 carries. With the Bombers offence unable to stay on the field in the second half, Calgary began to take advantage of a tired defence, and the team numbers show it: 422 yards of total offence to Winnipeg’s 268.
Yes, the Winnipeg offence struggled yet again, though things looked positive early on. A 55-yard opening drive that culminated in a 42-yard Darvin Adams touchdown reception was a bit of a mirage, though, as the team would struggle with making first downs, especially in the third quarter.
“We continued to do some of the things that were working in the first half and they made adjustments, taking those things away from us,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. “There were a couple plays there where I could’ve made a better decision, got throws to continue drives. For me, I’ve got to be better in the third quarter and keep us on the field so our defence isn’t out there as long.”
Nichols had a solid, mistake-free outing, with 234 yards on 18-for-28 passing. His offensive line left him out to dry plenty, though, as he was sacked five times on the night, many coming on key second downs early in drives.
“Basically before this game, we had decided that we won six of the last eight quarters [against Calgary] but still lost two games,” said offensive lineman Stanley Bryant. “It’s the little things that got them three wins and we got to learn from them.”
Down 25-14, the tide turned for Winnipeg late in the game. A six-yard touchdown throw from Nichols to Rory Kohlert, followed by a Cam Marshall run for the two-point convert, brought the Bombers within three points with 2:16 left. The defence forced a quick two-and-out, giving Nichols and the offence an opportunity. On a pivotal third-and-inches, though, a no end penalty pushed the team back, forcing Hajrullahu into the difficult kick.
“You cannot rely on the officials, you have to win games in spite of that,” said O’Shea, commenting on the no end penalty. “You can’t make an excuse. I think this type of outcome has been happening since officials were involved in any sports, from the beginning of the history of sport with officials. It just happens, human error, whatever.”
Rounding out the statistics, Marshall carried the ball for 29 yards on ten carries. Of the receiving corps, Nick Moore led the way with 97 yards on seven receptions, while Adams and Kohlert had the receiving touchdowns.
The Bombers will be at home again next week to play Edmonton, the second-best team in the West Division on Saturday, October 3. Kick off is set for 3 p.m.