Blue flop for finale

Blue Bombers' Stegall is brought down by Eskimos' Williams during CFL East semifinal action at...

Blue Bombers' Stegall is brought down by Eskimos' Williams during CFL East semifinal action at Canad Inns Stadium. (Jason Halstead/Winnipeg Sun/SUN MEDIA)

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

The season that began with huge expectations finished exactly how it began for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers -- not well.

The Blue and Gold felt they had the talent this year to not only get back to the Grey Cup but win it this time. Instead they are going home early after falling 29-21 to the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division semifinal yesterday afternoon at Canad Inns Stadium.

The Eskimos became the first of five crossover teams to win a division semifinal since the rule was instituted in the mid-1990s. They will meet the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday in the East final.

The Bombers, meanwhile, will begin a long off-season that could consist of big changes. They started out 0-4 and 2-8 before bouncing back with six wins in their last eight games.

'COMING UP SHORT'

Then there was yesterday's flop of a finale, which was only Winnipeg's third loss in its last 11 home playoff games dating back to 1990.

"It's emblematic of a lot of games we had this season, where we were close and we were in it but we didn't have that final punch that could knock out our opponent," defensive tackle Doug Brown said in the deathly silent Bomber locker-room.

"For the better half of the season, this is where we were -- coming up short."

The Eskimos executed their game plan perfectly yesterday in front of 27,493 chilled spectators. They started by shutting down Bomber running backs Fred Reid and Joe Smith.

That forced Winnipeg quarterback Kevin Glenn to take over, but he struggled mightily.

He completed only 44% of his passes, and his lone interception was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Esks defensive end Fred Perry late in the second quarter. It gave Edmonton the lead for good, at 20-15.

"Fred Perry made a big-time play," Winnipeg linebacker Ike Charlton said. "That put them over the hump."

Since Glenn and the Bomber offence couldn't move the ball, Ricky Ray and the Eskimos offence started most of their drives near midfield.

"Field position today was huge," Charlton said. "We were fighting all day."

The Esks, however, were able to deliver the knockout punch because they needed to move only a few yards to score points. A.J. Harris had touchdown runs of three yards and one yard for Edmonton, while Noel Prefontaine booted 28- and 23-yard field goals and two singles.

Glenn, who completed 15 of 34 passes for 233 yards and hit Romby Bryant with a 78-yard touchdown toss in the first quarter, said the wind was a factor.

"Sometimes you couldn't get the ball up in the air because once it gets up in the air it can get away from you and get away from the receiver," he said. "It got away from the receiver a couple times out there."

Winnipeg's Jason Armstead had a 93-yard punt-return touchdown in the second, and Alexis Serna followed up a 39-yard field goal miss in the first by making 38- and 43-yarders in the fourth.

'OUTSTANDING DAY'

Forty of the 50 points scored in the game were with the 30 km/h north wind.

Ray completed 27 of 37 passes for 303 yards. Edmonton committed no turnovers compared to Winnipeg's four.

"When you look at the quarterback play, Ricky had an outstanding day," Bombers head coach Doug Berry said. "I was a little bit disappointed that we weren't able to match that in a game of this magnitude."

Edmonton's Kelly Campbell led all receivers with 111 yards on five catches, while Reid was the top rusher with 14 carries for 80 yards, although most of it came too late.

"What are we now, 8-11 for the year?" Brown asked.

"... Even though we were strong down the stretch, we were more bad than good. That's what that record says to me."


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