Crack in confidence for Bombers

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:35 PM ET

TORONTO - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers live on the edge.

Saturday night the Argonauts tipped them over, the edge when Noel Prefontaine beat them with a single point on a 31-yard missed field goal with 23 seconds to play.

Every week they play a game of Survival CFL, but this time they came up short, 25-24.

The Bombers bombed. They are somewhat of an enigma. They don't look overly powerful, yet they beat the perennial powerhouse Alouettes but lose to the 2-9 Argos. They had Buck Pierce, a quarterback who has defied injury and baffled defences with a gunslinger approach.

But last night they were down to third-string quarterback, they lost their running back and Doug Brown, the anchor on defence. And, they lost a little swagger.

This was a statement game for Winnipeg. A team with legitimate Grey Cup credentials doesn't lose to a team struggling to find its way. It doesn't lose to an Argonauts club that had 71 yards passing through three quarters in a league where teams supposedly live or die through the air.

But this night was a comedy of errors and tribulation. It was a test of the Bombers' resilience.

Toronto had two interceptions, Evan McCullough's return on a fumble put Toronto in position for the upset, taking a 22-17 lead in the third quarter.

The Argos' Anthony Cannon blocked a punt for a two-point safety.

It was all looking decidedly uncomfortable for the Bombers. When James Green jumped on what seemed a fumbled punt for the tying TD in the fourth, officials ruled interference and gave the ball to Toronto.

Emotions swung back and forth. These teams have got a good hate on for each other.

On the first play Ricky Foley rocked Pierce. The sack netted only three yards but it set a tone.

And it was a painful one for the much-favoured Bombers. Minutes later, Jason Pottinger laid into Pierce as he was being tackled and got yappy with the Blue & Gold sideline. Pierce got up. Slowly. He wouldn't survive the first half, giving way to backup Alex Brink with Toronto up 15-7.

In the last meeting, it was Joe Lobendahn who knocked Toronto's Cleo Lemon out of a game and hastened his exit right out of the league.

They were also having trouble finding an answer for the Argonauts' running game and Cory Boyd, who rambled for 79 yards on five carries in the first half. Toronto's offence is ranked last in scoring but it does have one proven weapon. The ground game. It is tops in rushing (109.3 yards per game), averaging a league-best 5.9 yards per carry.

The Bombers weren't the only ones with swagger when Boyd ripped off a 45 yarder, raising both hands, walking towards the stands and leading the cheers. Winnipeg seethed.

The Bombers have killed teams with the big play. But on this night, Pierce was intercepted by Byron Parker. Toronto's Ronald Flemons lands on running back Fred Reid's leg with 2:18 to play in first half. The Bombers are facing adversity. Good teams lose these games. Teams with aspirations of greatness find a way to win.

Toronto's Sean Smalls stepped in front of a Brink pass just as the announcement echoed through the press box five minutes into the third quarter that not only Pierce, but also Reid, would not return this night.

Suddenly, there are real questions in Swaggerville.

Suddenly, there must be doubt that this team can maintain its remarkable rise from a 4-14 season in 2010 to a Grey Cup.

It can't convert a third and one inside Toronto's five and the cracks in the Bombers' confidence begin to show. Terrance Edwards rips off his helmet in disgust.

And, then, the big play comes. But for the Argos. Brink's pass to Edwards is fumbled, every Argonaut except a couple cheerleaders then touch the ball on a 72-yard return to put Toronto up 22-17.

Football heaven

Gorgeous autumn night. The dome open to a cloudless sky. The Argonauts and Blue Bombers in a dogfight. Perfect football scenario. But where have all the people gone? The announced attendance was 19,108, which actually isn't horrid for this season.

But for Raghib "Rocket" Ismail and the other Argonauts from the 1991 championship team who returned Saturday night to be feted at half time, this is not the football scenario they remember in Toronto. Ismail still looks like he could play and, along with Pinball Clemons, got the loudest reaction. "The 1991 season will be the most memorable of our lives," Dan Ferrone told fans.

That championship year, Toronto's average attendance was over 38,000 with more than 50,000 fans watching the club throttle Winnipeg 42-3. When Ismail, a projected No. 1 pick spurned the NFL for the Argos and returned a kick 73 yards on a reverse with Michael Clemons in his CFL debut it sparked a roar that lasted throughout a 15-3 season.

Last night it was Boyd for 15 yards; Boyd for 13 yards; Jyles for 18 and a TD. Fans cheered. Horns blew. But in the sterile, vastness of the dome it sounded like a foghorn. Desolate. Lonely. Cameras panned to a section with packed seats. I'm still looking to find where that was ... I'm thinking it was a leftover shot from 1991?

Good grief

This night didn't start out on a happy note. It looked decidedly like it might be a repeat of the 22-16 disaster back in July. The Bombers are not only the CFL's least penalized team but had also forced a league-best 39 turnovers. Jyles first play was a pass to Jeremaine Copeland. Or, it would've been if Jovon Johnson hadn't stepped in front of it and returned it 27 yards for a Bombers' touchdown.


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