It had the makings of exactly the kind of dramatic win this Winnipeg Blue Bombers team needs to turn around what has been an ugly 2012 season.
But instead, it ended the same way it has so many times in this 2-6 Winnipeg Blue Bombers campaign: in disappointment, defeat and that worst feeling in all of sport — if only.
A 41-yard Paul McCallum field goal with no time remaining gave the B.C. Lions a 20-17 victory over the Bombers before a stunned sellout crowd of 29,533. McCallum booted the field goal with just one second remaining on the clock as the Lions nearly accidentally ran out the clock to send it to overtime.
The late Lions dramatics spoiled what was looking like a monster party at Canad Inns Stadium. The Bombers looked poised to pull a shocking upset over the league-leading Lions that would have improved their own season record to 3-4 and vaulted them over Hamilton and into the third and final playoff position in the East Division.
Instead, it was more of the same.
"It doesn’t matter if it was the first quarter or the fourth quarter," said Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson. "You lose the game because of its entirety. And we lost the game."
A one-yard Alex Brink touchdown plunge in the third quarter — the first offensive TD the Lions had surrendered in more than 16 quarters of football — followed by fourth-quarter field goals of 17 and 31 yards by Justin Palardy had the Bombers leading the Lions 14-10 late in the game.
But then a 43-yard completion from Lions QB Travis Lulay to slotback Shawn Gore, followed by an 18-yard scamper by Lions tailback — and Winnipeg’s own — Andrew Harris set up a two-yard Harris touchdown run with under two minutes to play to give the Lions back the lead at 17-14. But the Bombers weren’t done yet, as starting QB Joey Elliott marched the team 58 yards in 10 plays to set up a game-tying 31-yard field goal by Palardy.
Just when it seemed the game was headed for overtime, the Bombers’ defence again found a way to give up a big play late in the fourth quarter. They got away with it last week against Hamilton, but at 6-2, B.C. has the best record in the CFL for a reason, and there was no mercy this time.
"It was there — we had them. It was plain as day — we had them. And we just let them slip through the cracks," said Bombers wide receiver Chris Matthews, who was QB Joey Elliott’s favorite target with six catches for 101 yards. Elliott finished the night 20-42 for 256 yards and 1 INT.
The Lions’ dramatics came after a gutsy Bombers comeback as Winnipeg overcame a 10-point first-half deficit and some undisciplined play.
The Lions were up 10-0 coming out of the locker-room for the third quarter, a familiar position for a Bombers team that has been outscored 136-50 in the first half this season and has never had the lead at halftime in eight regular-season games and counting.
The score flattered the Lions a bit, however, and had at least as much to do with a string of undisciplined Bombers penalties in the second quarter as with anything B.C. was doing on offence.
The Bombers had a pair of first-half interceptions taken off the board by penalties, including a Johnny Sears pick at midfield with 1:35 to play that would have given Winnipeg the ball but was nullifed by a roughing-the-passer call on defensive end Kenny Mainor.
Three plays later, Bombers linebacker Brandon Stewart took another roughing call for hitting Lulay as he went out of bounds. That got the ball to the Winnipeg 18-yard line and three plays later, Lulay found Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris for a five-yard touchdown reception.
With the loss, the Bombers finish a four-game homestand 2-2. The club heads back out on the road for the first time in over a month next Sunday when they travel to Regina to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the annual Labour Day Weekend classic.
The game is the first of a home-and-home series that will see the Riders play the Bombers in Winnipeg Sept. 9 in the Banjo Bowl.
The good news is Winnipeg may be catching Saskatchewan at just the right time. The Riders have lost four straight games heading into today’s game in Regina against the Calgary Stampeders.