Monday, November 3, 2014

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Close-Out CFL On A Winning Note

Donna SpencerThe Canadian Press
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers concluded a tough season on a winning note and were the better team in the snow Saturday as they upset the Calgary Stampeders 18-13.

The Blue Bombers (7-11) opened this 2014 season a promising 5-1, but then plummeted from playoff contention. Their victory over the CFL’s top team to conclude their regular season snapped an eight-game losing streak.

“We finally started clicking, today at least,” Blue Bomber defensive back Maurice Leggett said. “It’s a building block of what’s to come next season and just a small portion of the chemistry we can have when we’re clicking all at once.

“It’s a huge relief. We wish we could continue playing because this is the type of weather I think a lot of guys like to play in.”

With the addition of the expansion Ottawa Redblacks to the league, the Blue Bombers returned to the West Division this year after eight seasons in the East. Winnipeg improved on their 3-15 campaign of 2013, but miss the playoffs for a third straight year.

There is a week remaining in the CFL’s regular season, but the Blue Bombers finish on a bye week. Led by Lirim Hajrullahu’s four field goals, the Blue Bombers scored 15 of their 18 points off turnovers Saturday.

Winnipeg backup quarterback Robert Marve threw a touchdown pass to Clarence Denmark. Marve replaced starter Drew Willy, who completed just four of 10 passes for 22 yards in the first half. Marve was 6-for-12 in passing for 76 yards in relief.

Rob Cote had a touchdown pass, Rene Paredes kicked a field goal and punter Rob Maver contributed a single for the Stampeders. Hajrullahu conceded a two-point safety with 11 seconds remaining in the game.

Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was 13-for-22 in passing for 138 yards and a touchdown throw in the loss, which snapped his run of eight straight victories.

Calgary (14-3) has known since beating the Blue Bombers 33-23 in Winnipeg on Oct. 18 that it will finish first in the West Division and host the division final Nov. 23.

But with the loss, the Stampeders are no longer able to match the CFL’s season record of 16 wins set by the Edmonton Eskimos in 1989.

Calgary can still match the franchise record for victories in a season with 15 when it closes out the regular season Friday in Vancouver against the host B.C. Lions.

The danger for the Stampeders is losing their top players to injury in these final three games of the regular season that have no impact on Calgary’s position in the standings.

So the sight of star running back Jon Cornish bouncing his head off the turf in the second quarter and staggering to his feet was alarming for Stampeder fans.

The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2013 had passed the 1,000-yard rushing yards milestone for a third straight season with 105 when he was tackled by Winnipeg’s Bruce Johnson on a nine-yard run.

Cornish needed assistance to get off the field, but walked unaided to the Stampeder clubhouse surrounded by medical staff. He did not return to the game.

What’s worrisome for Calgary is Cornish missed six games in July and August with concussion symptoms after he was knocked out in the season-opener. He said the blow to his head Saturday wasn’t as serious.

“My head contacted the ground on the right side and when you hit it on the side, that’s when you get the balance issue, so when I was getting up, I didn’t have much balance. Then immediately everybody freaks out,” Cornish said.

“Go in, get checked out, no real issues, but as a precautionary measure, they took me out. Like I learned before with concussions, you can’t say anything until you’ve gone a few days without symptoms.”

Cornish was playing in just his ninth game of the season Saturday after sitting out two other games with injuries, yet he leads the CFL in rushing with 1,082 yards.

Stampeder receiver Maurice Price also appeared hurt when he was tackled on the final play of the game, but head coach John Hufnagel didn’t have an update on Price’s condition following the game.

Saturday afternoon’s game in falling snow and a temperature of one degree was a taste, weather-wise, of what conditions could be for the division final at McMahon. As the turf became whiter and slicker, both offences struggled to move the ball.

Winnipeg took the lead on Hajrullahu’s field goals from 10, 30 and 18 yards in the fourth quarter. The first two of the quarter were scored after Winnipeg recovered fumbles by Mitchell and Calgary receiver Anthony Parker.

“You can’t win a football game with that many turnovers, especially the back-to-back ones we had in the fourth quarter when we’re trying to get back in the game,” Hufnagel said. “Penalties hurt us also. We had some nice gains which were nullified by penalties.

“Truthfully I was very glad the weather was like it was today so we would have the opportunity to play in adverse conditions because we know November 23rd will be a little frosty most likely.”

Notes: Stampeder defensive end Shawn Lemon set a new team record with his seventh forced fumble of the season . . . Calgary had won five in a row at McMahon before the loss, which was its second at home this season . . . The Blue Bombers snapped a 10-game losing streak at McMahon.

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