Stamps eatin' fumble pie

Stampeders running back Joffrey Reynolds reacts after fumbling the ball in a crucial fourth-quarter...

Stampeders running back Joffrey Reynolds reacts after fumbling the ball in a crucial fourth-quarter situation yesterday during the CFL West semifinal against the Edmonton Eskimos at McMahon Stadium. Reynolds and his teammates kept turning the ball over, allowing the Eskimos to erase a halftime deficit and rally for a 33-26 victory. (Calgary Sun/Kevin Udahl)

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Six weeks before the holiday season begins, the Calgary Stampeders were in a giving mood.

Six Calgary turnovers, including three lost fumbles, handed the Edmonton Eskimos a comeback 33-26 victory yesterday in the West semifinal in front of 26,799 spectators at McMahon Stadium.

Quarterback Henry Burris threw an interception on the Stamps' first and last drives, both to Kelly Wiltshire, and running back Joffrey Reynolds fumbled twice as the Eskimos advanced to the West final Sunday against the B.C. Lions.

"That's the typical Christmas present to a team," said Burris. "We gave them the game.

"We moved the ball at will, then we had turnovers, penalties and it killed us. Guys wanted to make plays. If it's not there, don't try to force it because that's what happens."

Calgary roared out of the gates, getting three huge plays to set up three first-half touchdowns, two by Burris on one-yard runs and one by Reynolds from the same distance.

Backup running back Tony Stallings took off on a 63-yard run in the first quarter to set up a touchdown, while Reynolds had a 38-yard scamper on another touchdown after a 54-yard kickoff return by Terrence Wilkins.

In the second quarter, Burris hit Stallings on a 33-yard pass to give the Stamps a 23-12 halftime lead.

Then the Eskimos did something they haven't done at all this year: They changed their quarterback. Backup Jason Maas came in to replace starter Ricky Ray, who couldn't get the offence moving in the opening two quarters.

The move paid off as Maas led the Eskimos on a 16-play, eight-minute drive of 93 yards to open the fourth quarter. Mathieu Bertrand punched the ball in from one yard out as Edmonton tied the game.

Maas then capitalized on another Stamps turnover to hit Jason Tucker with the winning score on a 25-yard pass to the corner of the endzone. For Stamps head coach Tom Higgins, watching his club hand the lead over in the fourth quarter to his former team was devastating.

"We didn't support the defence when we turn the football over," Higgins said. "Jason is a great quality quarterback and they did the right thing by inserting him. They did what they needed to do and score some points."

Eskimos kicker Sean Fleming was a saviour when Edmonton's drives stalled. The veteran nailed field goals from 30, 38, 43, 17, 34 and 36 yards to tie the franchise record for field goals in a playoff game.

After the Stamps controlled the play in the first half, offensive lineman Jeff Pilon couldn't believe they let the game slip away when Edmonton made the quarterback switch.

"Of course we should have won," Pilon said. "We're usually a second-half team. Every position had a breakdown and it became a big mess.

"In the first half, offence, defence, special teams all dominated. We didn't come out cocky in the second half. We knew it was going to be a 0-0 game again. We also knew they were bringing out Maas in the second half."

Higgins walked around the Stamps locker-room following the game, shaking hands with players as they wiped tears from their eyes.

The Stamps turned a 4-14 team into an 11-7 one and hosted a playoff game this season but nobody wanted to hear it.

"There's not a lot you can say to take away any kind of hurt," Higgins said. "We will wrap up the season now. Sometimes you have to lose before you can win.

"If this sticks with them and if this is the motivation that is necessary to be a better football team next year, watch out.

"I'm proud of them and they had a heck of a football season but right now that's no consolation."


Videos

Photos