Bombers do just enough

Blue Bombers kicker Troy Westwood and holder Jamie Stoddard celebrate Westwood’s game-winning field...

Blue Bombers kicker Troy Westwood and holder Jamie Stoddard celebrate Westwood’s game-winning field goal on Sunday. (SUN MEDIA/Jason Halstead)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

They say it's a game of inches.

Yesterday, it was actually 18 of them.

Half a yard -- and a coach's decision. That's how close the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came from a humiliating, early exit from the CFL playoffs.

The 18 inches are what separated the Montreal Alouettes from clinching a first down with 1:35 to go in the East semifinal.

The coach's decision belonged to Als boss Jim Popp, who chose a third-down gamble instead of a punt that would have forced the Bombers to drive the field with no timeouts.

Popp rolled the dice, the Winnipeg defence made the play of the year and the Bombers' improbable dream lives long enough for at least one more trip to Toronto, thanks to a 24-22 victory.

"That's CFL playoff football for you. It's never over," chirped receiver Milt Stegall, who couldn't have asked for a more memorable way to finish the last home game of his career.

I mean, to come down to a Troy Westwood field goal with no time on the clock -- wasn't that a Bomber fan's worst nightmare?

Sure enough, there's Old Lefty lining up a 20-yarder on the last play, a nasty wind howling across the turf, doubts ripping at some 23,000 in the stands.

It was only the season on the line. Stegall's career, probably, too.

"I told him if this is it for us, let's go out with a bang," Stegall said.

A loss to the Als and you'd have been tempted to call for a bomb to be dropped on the whole thing.

But Westwood nailed it, and everybody who was getting ready to boo went ballistic instead. So did the Bomber defence.

"Beautiful," linebacker Barrin Simpson said. "It was beautiful. I couldn't stop screaming."

In winning their first playoff game in five years, the Bombers did what they've done so many times this season: tease you with flashes of brilliance, leave you gagging with stretches of mediocrity, then do just enough to pull it out at the end.

"I had no doubt if the game was close we'd find a way to get it done in the fourth quarter," head coach Doug Berry said. "That's what these guys do. They believe in each other."

And Berry, believe it or not, believed in Westwood, even after the embattled kicker missed a 39-yard field goal that would have given his team the lead minutes earlier.

Instead of blowing another gasket, Berry this time walked over, patted Westwood on the back and delivered a positive message. Apparently, Berry has learned the merits of salvaging the kicker's confidence.

'Drilled it'

"I said, 'You're definitely going back out there again, and next time you go out there it's going to be the game-winner. And you're going to get it as time's expiring,'" Berry related. "He had that opportunity, and he drilled it."

Of course, Westwood's chance wouldn't have come if it weren't for the defence: from Juran Bolden fighting through back spasms to make one of his patented, game-turning interceptions to Simpson leading the charge on third-and-short.

If there's one thing Bomber fans can cling to going into the East Final in Toronto, it's that the dirty dozen appears to be back.

That is, if you ignore the nearly 300 yards passing rung up by the Als, including a 65-yard Kerry Watkins touchdown that might have been the easiest major scored in the CFL this season.

Offence doesn't usually do it at this time of year, and there's no sign quarterback Kevin Glenn and Co. are planning to regain their midsummer form.

Glenn wasn't at his best yesterday -- out-passed yet again by the Als' Marcus Brady -- and when it was crunch time, the Bombers looked for No. 1, riding Charles Roberts to the yards that mattered most.

So it wasn't pretty. But that doesn't matter, anymore.

Nobody draws pictures in the playoffs.


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