Time to start finishing right

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

It's virtually impossible to pitch a perfect game, let alone a perfect season.

But the Calgary Stampeders aren't finding the consistent relief when they need it most -- heading into the fourth quarter.

After Saturday's 44-44 tie with the visiting Roughriders, the Stampeders have failed to secure a win in four games during which they've held a lead heading into the final frame this CFL season.

Timely turnovers, stalled drives late and an inability to shut down the opposition offence in the clutch are just a few of the reasons that have kept the defending Grey Cup champions from running away with the West Division this year.

"It's kind of hard to explain," said Stampeders veteran offensive lineman Jeff Pilon.

"If we had the magic answer, we could sell it and make millions and no team would ever lose in the fourth quarter.

"But it's taking care of the little things -- they hurt us," Pilon continued. "Once we take care of the little things, then we're holding the cards in our hands."

As it stands, the Stamps (8-6-1) head into the Week 17 slate of games tied with the Riders atop the division with 17 points. The B.C. Lions are a point behind at 16, while the Stamps opponent Friday, the Edmonton Eskimos, sport 14.

"Of course, you don't ever like to blow a lead," Pilon said.

"We have to finish games, and we know that. We're trying to work on those little things, and once we get those little things cleaned up and start tuning in, we'll be alright."

Trouble is the Stamps are running out of regular-season time to fix the issue.

Only three games remain before the playoffs start and there's no wiggle room -- no next week -- after late-game losses. And their most recent blown lead -- in arguably their biggest tilt of the campaign -- came Saturday against the visiting Roughriders.

The Stamps led 23-18 through three quarters and couldn't put their fellow West Division leaders away.

"It's just how the game is," said Stamps quarterback Henry Burris. "Us as an offence, our job is to go out there and give us the best opportunity to be successful. We had a good drive there to put us in position to hopefully give us a big victory. But Saskatchewan made plays. Whatever we did to try and put us in a position to win in the fourth quarter, Saskatchewan just responded well.

"Never at all is the lead safe in this league," Burris added. "It is a 60-minute game -- and that's the great thing about the CFL. Especially in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter when the clock does stop (after every play), that's great for any offence."

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

The efforts of three Riders in Saturday's tie with the Stamps were rewarded yesterday, when the Gibson Finest CFL Player Awards were announced.

Joining Hamilton Tiger-Cats QB Kevin Glenn as the star offensive player of the week were DE Stevie Baggs, KR Jason Armstead and SB Andy Fantuz.

Baggs, who earned defensive honours for the third time this season, had seven tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble for the Riders.

Teammate Armstead collected special-teams kudos for his 170 yards on a combined nine kick/punt returns against the Stamps.

And Fantuz was named top Canadian after hauling in 10 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Glenn went 29-of-44 for 506 yards and three TDs in the Ticats' 41-38 loss Sunday to the Montreal Alouettes.

EXTRA POINTS

WR Nik Lewis and DL Justin Phillips both missed yesterday's practice with illness. "Both are suffering with a virus of some sort," said Stamps GM/head coach John Hufnagel. "We hope they'll be there (today)." ... About 60 grade-school kids attended yesterday's practice and hooted and hollered throughout the 90-minute session. The players rewarded the children with an impromptu, post-practice, meet-and-greet autograph session.

TODD.SAELHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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