VANCOUVER – As far as gut-wrenching playoff defeats go in the history of Winnipeg sports, this one will rank way up there.
The Blue Bombers led for nearly the entire game, but fell behind late and lost 32-31 to the BC Lions in an epic West Semifinal that will have many fans second-guessing a late decision by Mike O’Shea.
With under a minute left and facing 3rd-and-4 from the BC 53, O’Shea elected to send Justin Medlock out to attempt a 61-yard field goal instead of trying to get the first down.
The kick, like the Bombers hopes of moving on to Calgary, fell short.
“I had it pictured going the other way. I thought we were just going to go down the field and hit the field goal with no time left,” explained an emotional O’Shea postgame, his voice shaking. “But it didn’t go that way. It’s my decision. I put him in that spot, it’s a tough spot to put him in. He’s been good all year.”
Medlock said the kick was probably outside his range, but felt like he could make it.
“It was probably two or three yards outside my range. I grabbed a tee and tried kicking off it, but I hadn’t practiced much off it. I was thinking, ‘Oh, if I get a hold of it maybe I can get it, but I hadn’t practiced much off a tee. My range was 57 if we needed it, but I felt like, given that situation, I just grabbed the tee and felt like I could drive one, kind of like a kickoff. But I didn’t get a hold of it. Coach asked me and I said, ‘Let’s give it a run.’ If you don’t get the first down it could be over.”
The Bombers came out in the game guns blazing, jumping out to an 11-0 lead off of two Lions turnovers.
After the Lions got on the board early in the second, but Winnipeg answered with two touchdowns of their own, both from Matt Nichols to Ryan Smith. They were Smith’s first scores since that viral blind catch he made in Hamilton way back in early July.
BC got a late TD to make it a 25-12 game at the half, and after a quiet third quarter the Bombers entered the final frame with a 28-19 advantage. Medlock would add a field goal early in the 4th, and the Bombers would not score again.
Jonathon Jennings took over in the 4th, hitting Terrell Sinkfield to cut the lead to five with just under seven minutes left.
Then, the drive that champions are made of. Jennings converted a number of key second-downs, and facing 2nd down deep in Winnipeg territory, he escaped pressure, dodged tackles, and outran numerous Winnipeg defenders to the corner of the endzone to give the Lions their first lead of the game with 66 seconds left.
A two-point convert was stopped, the third time in the game BC was unsuccessful on a two-point try. That opened the door for the Bombers to set up for a winning field goal try, but as we all know by now that didn’t pan out for the Blue and Gold.
“There’s really no words for it. It sucks right now. They made more plays than we did down the stretch,” explained Mo Leggett. “Jennings, he’s a special quarterback, he can make plays and extend them with his feet, and thats what he did at the end of the game.”
Jennings was slowed for much of the game but finished with 329 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Jeremiah Johnson also had a great game on the ground, breaking 100 yards to go along with a score.
On the Bombers side of the ball, Nichols went 26/40 for 390 yards and two scores, both to Smith, who led the Bombers with seven catches for 106 yards. It may have been Smith’s best performance in a Winnipeg uniform, but that’s of no consolation to him.
“You gotta give credit to the BC Lions. They really finished it well at the end. Anytime you lose a game like this its gong to be a tough pill to swallow. We had control of them and then they finished really well there at the end.”
That concludes Winnipeg’s season on a very bitter note, losing a game in which they led for nearly 55 minutes. But they certainly got a lot further than most expected after their 1-4 start.
“We wanted to make it a blowout, we just had to execute a lot better,” says Leggett. “The season is not a write-off but we had one goal in mind and that was the Grey Cup, so it’s a bust year for us.”
“For me the toughest thing is how much I love this group of guys. The team is always going to be evolving and changing. There’s not a guy on this team I don’t like, and I think thats rare in this business,” Nichols reflected postgame. “I think thats the most heartbreaking thing, that this team won’t be the same one next year.”
The Bombers now head home to pack up for the offseason while BC heads to Calgary for the West Final next Sunday.