EDMONTON – Big losses, they say, stay with you forever.
They eat at you, consume you. For the Ottawa Redblacks, there will always be what-ifs.
The pain of the Redblacks will include some big mistakes in the 27-16 loss at the Gray Cup for the Calgary Stampeders. The decision to keep the ball on the edge of a punt near the end of the first half (was for a touchdown killing momentum), a fumble on a punt return early in the fourth quarter and a deep fall in the territory of Calgary in a third and the first game are among the moments that contributed to the loss, which will last a long, long time.
"I told myself there would be no regrets after this game," said defender Antoine Pruneau. "Sometimes it's just a play or two – you lose a tackle, we get into that and it sucks."
"I'm thinking if the tables were turned, we'd be celebrating," said defender Rich Murray. "The two best teams in the league have come to this end – a team had to be disappointed, it happened to be us."
"It's difficult," said catcher Brad Sinopoli. "It's a long way to get to this point. Only in the following moments is it difficult to digest … there are many emotions."
It was another Gray Cup, finally, to Calgary, who had lost the previous two.
The Ottawa, who comes off great offensive performance in the 46-27 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Eastern Division championship a week ago, lost by 21 to 11 at halftime.
They fought sometimes with traction in an ice field. Quarterback Trevor Harris struggled sometimes by finding receivers – he played three interceptions. And the catchers sometimes struggled with catching the ball. The Redblacks had only 17 yards in the first quarter, but Harris had 132 in the break.
The start of Rene Paredes' departure left the field and Ottawa started at the 45-yard line. But after a two-and-out, Richie Leone punt and a late hit by Dan West, the Stampeders had the ball in their 44th. A 38-yard pass in the middle for Chris Matthews put Calgary in a good position to score. But two shots later, Reds' defender Jonathan Rose intercepted a pass from Mitchell and made the ball on his own.
The Stampeders opened the scoring, created when Harris fired a ball – aimed at Greg Ellingson – directly into the hands of the defensive Ciante Evans. Three laps later, with Ottawa in a Cover Zero blitz (six guys were chasing the quarterback), Mitchell threw a pass that Don Jackson took and was untouched for the final 21-yard zone with just over four minutes in the first quarter.
Three races for a total of 21 yards helped put the Redblacks on a 48-yard field attempt at Lewis Ward but the kick went to the left.
Ottawa started his next trip at Calgary 51. It was Harris's connection in the next play, with R.J. catching Trevor's 22-yard pass along the left side line. Ward hit a 30-yard field goal to make the 7-3 2:28 in the second quarter.
Calgary responded with a touchdown. Trapped by Eric Rogers (20 and 11 yards), Julan Lynch (26 yards) mounted a 17-yard pass to Lemar Durant, who had knocked out a pair. The convert did 14-3 with 7:54 remaining in the first quarter.
Some lack of communication from Calgary led to an interception of Sherrod Baltimore – his fourth in his last five games. But a crippled Powell at Calgary 21 killed that moment.
Julian Feoli-Gudino made his way through the defenders of Calgary and scored a 55-yard touchdown within three minutes. J-C Beaulieu picked up the two-point pass and went 14-11.
The Redblacks made a big mistake 20 seconds from the end.
Instead of punishing for the sideline or even out of bounds in Calgary territory, Richie Leone left near the middle of the field. Terry Williams stumbled but kept his balance and ran 97 yards for a touchdown – missing just one second for the first time.
It was the longest comeback in the history of the Gray Cup.
Ward made a 41-yard field goal in the first leg of Ottawa in the second half, but Walls got back to Calgary with a 34-yard goal.
At the beginning of the fourth period, Diontae Spencer spit the ball with a face to beat to reach the outside and was recovered by Wynton McManis of Calgary. Paredes made a 29-yard shot and was 27-14.
"I was trying to make a play for my team," Spencer said. "I was trying to stay awake. I could not hold the ball, it jumped from my leg. It was a bad turnaround in a crucial situation. It's football, things happen.
A sensational dive in the back of the end zone by Greg Ellingson was nullified by CFL Command Center – the ball hit the ground – missing only 9 and a half minutes. In the third and final, Harris's pass to Brad Sinopoli was dropped when he was trained. A touchdown there would have pulled Ottawa inside a touchdown and a chance to fight to win.
A Jamar Wall interception at Calgary 20 with 2:27 stopped another drive in Ottawa. Then Tre Roberson got an interception with 1:22 left. The Stampeders conceded two points – a security – with the time diminishing.
MORE: Second best team of the Gray Cup could have had a chance, but for a punt