CALGARY — If news is supposed to be the unexpected, then it hardly seems worth mentioning the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Calgary Stampeders 23-20 in pre-season CFL action Saturday night.
The Bombers, after all, haven’t won at McMahon Stadium since 2002 — a run of 11 straight regular-season losses. Against that backdrop, a win over the Stamps Saturday was probably a lot to ask of the Bombers, even if they were playing their second pre-season game while Calgary was playing their first.
To their credit, the Bombers put together a nice comeback after quickly falling behind 14-0 in the first half.
They even led late in the fourth quarter, only to have it all slip away on a couple of Calgary field goals in the final two minutes of the game, including a 42-yarder by Tyler Crapigna as time ran out.
While a second-half Winnipeg comeback with the B-teams in the game was nice, it’s perhaps of more consequence that with the first teams in the game in the first half, there was no escaping the fact Winnipeg was beaten in all three phases of the game.
Special teams were awful — which will surely draw the ire of rookie head coach Mike O’Shea, who was a special teams guru as a player and assistant coach.
The offence struggled for traction in the first two quarters, the receivers dropped too many balls and a porous offensive line had the quarterbacks under siege.
The defence gave up way too many uncontested yards as Calgary jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Bombers finish the 2014 pre-season 0-2, just like they did in 2013.
The good news?
The Bombers were at least competitive this pre-season, getting outscored 47-42. They were obliterated last year 76-6.
Baby steps, folks.
What about Drew?
Bombers starting QB Drew Willy played the entire first half and put up some decent numbers — 14-23 for 172 yards — despite some spotty play by his receivers and offensive line.
Willy was sacked three times — four, if you include the one on which Calgary rush end Charleston Hughes was offside, and that was in just the first 18 minutes of play.
At least three of the nine incompletions attributed to Willy were just stone cold drops — and first-half drive killers — by receivers Donavon Kemp and Jason Barnes.
Willy built on what he did in Winnipeg’s pre-season opener against the Toronto Argonauts last Monday. There’s room for improvement — lots of it — but he has not looked out of place as he attempts to make the transition from CFL backup to CFL starter.
The battle for No. 2
Brian Brohm was the first one off the bench in relief of Willy last night and he looked pretty good — quickly authoring an 11-play, 77-yard drive that was capped off by a 29-yard TD pass to Aaron Kelly that tied the game 17-17 late in the third quarter.
Brohm made way for Max Hall in the fourth quarter and Hall looked a bit better than his anemic pre-season debut against Toronto last week, but he squandered a chance to put away the game late in the fourth quarter when he was picked off in the Calgary end zone with Winnipeg on the Calgary six-yard line.
For the second straight game, Robert Marve didn’t enter the game until late in the fourth quarter. He moved the ball again, but both his series stalled and he was unable to replicate the late TD drive he put together against the Argos.
The offensive line
The first-team O-line last night had imports Dan Knapp and Glenn January at tackle and non-imports Steve Morley between guards Patrick Neufeld and Chris Greaves. They struggled, yielding three sacks of Drew Willy in just the first quarter and a bit.
Morley made way at centre for second overall draft pick Matthias Goossen in the third quarter when Willy left the game and was replaced Brian Brohm. Read those tea leaves and the strong suggestion is the Bombers brain trust thinks Goossen still needs some seasoning and Morley will be Winnipeg’s centre to start the regular season.
A strangely abbreviated pre-season schedule for the Bombers means that after having played two pre-season games in the span of just five days last week, the Bombers will now not play again until June 26, when they open the 2014 CFL regular season against the Toronto Argonauts at Investors Group Field.