Takeaways: Fake punt attempt burns Bombers in Edmonton’s win

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea reacts after a call in Edmonton Eskimos' favour during first half CFL western semifinal action in Winnipeg Sunday, November 12, 2017. (John Woods/CP)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had their No. 1 quarterback after all, and were at home against an Edmonton Eskimos team they’d beaten in both meetings this season. Then the second half started.

So, what happened?

Somewhere between a tied game at halftime, and a final score of 39-32, the Eskimos blew Winnipeg’s defence apart en route to a berth in next Sunday’s West Final at McMahon Stadium against the Calgary Stampeders.

The game turned around on a fake punt attempt that they’ll be talking about long into the Winnipeg winter, but in the end the Eskimos won all the important head-to-head matchups and walked away with the spoils.

Here are some takeaways from a day on the couch, watching football that starts with a C, not an N.

Turnovers prove costly

Win the turnover battle, win the game. That old football cliché couldn’t be more apropos, as this game turned on the first turnover of the night, and when it was done the Eskimos had three takeaways to Winnipeg’s zero.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, a special teams guru, will take a ton of heat on Winnipeg sports radio Monday for the fake punt he called early in the third quarter of a 11-10 game. Edmonton’s Cory Watson sniffed out the direct snap to make the tackle for the first turnover of the game, and four plays later C.J. Gable was running the ball in from 15 yards out.

The Eskimos took control of the momentum handed to them by that Bombers gamble and never looked back. O’Shea gambled and lost. Now he has all winter to think it over.

GM Sunderland’s hard work pays off

As many as 11 Blue Bombers had a shot at Gamble on that 15-yard TD scamper that made the score 18-10, and by game’s end the Eskimos running back had 107 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.

Give Edmonton GM Brock Sunderland some credit here. The Eskimos lost their A running back, John White, in Game 2 of the season and have run through back after back all year long. Finally, after another one went down in October, Sunderland brought Gable in from Hamilton via trade for the final four contests of the season.

The Eskimos haven’t lost a game since, and on a day where Andrew Harris (11-for-77, no TDs) was in the Bomber lineup from start to finish, the Eskimos had the best back on the field Sunday.

Defence a big separator

Another football cliché? Defence wins championships.

The Bombers defence graded out as bottom three in the CFL in many categories this season, and this was one of those games where both teams were waiting to see who would blink first, tied 10-10 at the half. Then the second half started, and the Blue Bombers defence blinked – big time.

Edmonton scored three TDs in the second half that you could safely qualify as “too easy.” Both Brandon Zylstra and Adarius Bowman caught touchdown passes without a Bombers DB within 10 yards of them. Then Gable ran his second in from the 15 with barely a hand laid on him.

The Bombers defence didn’t force a two-and-out until there was 6:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. When that applies to your defence in a playoff game, chances are you’re not going to Calgary next week.

Nichols delivers gutsy performance in loss

Let’s take a moment to give Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols some love here. He played this game on one leg, with an injured calf, and still passed for 371 yards and three touchdowns, with zero picks.

His biggest problem was having to spend too many minutes on the sidelines, watching an Eskimos offence that won the day. But Nichols is a gamer, and eventually made this one appear to be closer than it really was.

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