Meltdown averted

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

When the frost is on the pumpkin and six teams line up to fight for the 2006 Grey Cup, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers may look back at two things that saved their season: the right foot of a man known for his hands, and the sharp tongue of man normally as soft-spoken as an Amish farmer.

But before we get to that, let's talk about how close the Bombers were to seeing their season unravel like a cheap ball of yarn against the Saskatchewan Roughriders yesterday.

Losers of four straight and trailing 20-13 in the third quarter, this team was on the brink of a complete meltdown.

Not so sure about that?

Then you didn't see receiver Milt Stegall venting at assistant coach Mike Working in that putrid first half, at one point even brushing aside Working's offer of a headset to talk to somebody upstairs.

You didn't see linebacker Kyries Hebert get into it with defensive coordinator Greg Marshall, giving as much as he took, after the Bomber defence gave up a big play and ensuing field goal early in the second half.

Offence, defence -- there wasn't a happy camper in the bunch.

"Just frustration, with everything that was going on," Stegall would explain later.

Hebert summed up his spat with Marshall like this: "He saw it one way, I saw it another way. That's the most heated he's ever been."

This was like watching an out-of-control diesel locomotive careening around a mountain turn, its inside wheels lifting off the rails, the whole load teetering on the brink.

One more iota of momentum in the wrong direction, and this baby was going down.

"We were down to our last believers," defensive lineman Doug Brown admitted, referring to a first 30 minutes that saw the Bombers slopping around in their own excrement. "We kept screwing up. We were calling the wrong calls, taking stupid penalties, missing tackles. We were the dumbest football team in the world in the first half."

That's when Marshall strolled into the locker-room, set aside the Mr. Nice Guy persona and let loose with a paint-peeling, expletive-laced tirade that would have got a deaf man's attention.

"Greg Marshall went off at halftime," Brown said. "Like I've never heard him. Normally a very mild-mannered assistant coach, he tore a strip off us."

The way Marshall saw it, along with most of the 30,000-plus in the stands, the Bombers were killing themselves. What should have been three Saskatchewan points was somehow 17.

So the Bomber defence came out in the second half, gave up an early field goal -- the one that led to the Marshall-Hebert tiff -- then slammed the door in the 'Riders faces.

But somebody still needed to put the stuffing back into the Winnipeg offence, which was sleepwalking through its fifth consecutive game.

Enter Stegall.

Calmed down by assistant coach Bobby Dyce after finally taking that headset from Working earlier, Stegall came up with one of those catches you have to see twice to believe.

REPLAY

The instant replay officials had to watch it several times to confirm No. 85, had, indeed, scored career touchdown No. 135.

The difference between the touchdown that tied the game at 20, and yet another stalled Bomber drive? The fraction of a second that expired between Stegall's right foot landing in the end zone, and his left landing out of it.

The difference in the team from that point on?

Like night and day.

"It turned the game," Stegall said. "It gave us some momentum. If we'd come away with a field goal at that point ..."

They probably wouldn't be 6-6 today.

Gives the final third of the season a whole new look, doesn't it?

Gets it started on the right foot, you might say.


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