In a decision that will haunt the Montreal Alouettes throughout the off-season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers rallied to a 24-22 victory in the Eastern semifinal Sunday at Canad Inns Stadium in the Manitoba city.
Troy Westwood kicked the game-winning 20-yard field goal with time expiring, moving the Bombers into the East final against the Toronto Argonauts at the Rogers Centre next Sunday (CBC, 12:30 p.m. ET).
"You can't explain how euphoric it feels," said Westwood, who finished the regular season with a career-low 60.6 field-goal percentage.
"That's the best part of doing this for a living, when your team comes through like that. The bonding that happens in victories like that, it's just the essence of life.
"I don't know what else you can do for a living to enjoy a high like that and that's why it's just awesome."
But many will remember this game as the moment Montreal coach Jim Popp made a major blunder in deciding to go for an ill-advised third-and-one at Montreal's 44-yard line.
Alouettes quarterback Marcus Brady was stuffed by Winnipeg linebacker Barrin Simpson,giving the Bombers great field position.Winnipeg, with the help of Charles Roberts'three carries for24 yards, then moved into field goal position, which Westwood converted.
Popp made no apologies for his decision.
"It was real simple to win the football game," said Popp, who's in his first full year as Montreal's head coach.
"In my view when a team's a yard off the ball and you need a half a yard, you should be able to get a half a yard."
Popp admitted the Alouettes have struggled with short yardage situations all year.
"You've just got to push people off the line," said Popp, who finished his 12th season as general manager.
While he started off slow, Roberts came through in the second half to finish with 104 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown.
Simpson was equally brilliant for the Bombers, making eight tackles and spearheading two big defensive stands.
The loss spoiled great performances by both Brady and Montreal receiver Kerry Watkins. Brady threw for 299 yards and one, while Watkins caught five passes for 158 yards and a major.
Winnipeg coach Doug Berry didn't questionPopp's decision to go for it instead of electing to punt.
"Coach knows what he wants to do, I know what I wanted to do," Berry said.
'Believed in our defence'
"I believed in our defence. I think that trying to get 18 inches on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is a very difficult thing to do, and any time a coach goes for it I really believe that we're on the ratio where it's going to happen in our favour."
Montreal kicker Damon Duval's 48-yard field goal put Montreal 19-10 early in the third quarter before Winnipeg responded with a touchdown by Roberts.
The running back cut left and dashed 18 yards for the major, cutting the Alouettes' advantage to 19-17 at 5:32.
The teams then exchanged field goals, which kept Montreal in front by two points.
The momentum seemed to favour Montreal after Westwood missed a 39-yard field goal with more than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but the longtime kicker regained his composure minutes later with the winning boot.
Berry said he went up to Westwood after the miss and gave him a vote of confidence — and a prediction.
"I just patted him on the back and I told him that we were going to be sending him back out there again," Berry said. "I didn't know it at the time, but I thought we might.
"I said, 'You're going to be going out there again and next time we go out there it's going to be the game-winner. You're going to hit it as time's expiring.'"
Roberts, who missed the final two regular-season games with a deep thigh bruise, was limited in the first half, only to pound the Montreal defence in the final 30 minutes.
After holding the Alouettes on their first drive, the Bombers opened the scoring six plays later at 4:33 of the first quarter. Quarterback Kevin Glenn found a streaking Milt Stegall down the right side of the field for a 19-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
It appeared the Alouettes tied the game early in the second, but a review of a touchdown by Ashlan Davis revealed the receiver had not crossed the goal-line with the ball.
Simpson then helped stuff Montreal running back Jarrett Payton on third-and-goal, preventing a touchdown.
But Montreal recovered after defensive back Davis Sanchez's interception of Glenn during Winnipeg's next drive help set up the tying score.
Brady hooked up with receiver Eric Deslauriers on two catches for 49 yards before Kerry Carter plunged in for a one-yard TD score at 6:15 of the second.
The Bombers momentarily regained the lead following an 18-yard field goal, but Montreal rebounded to a 14-10 advantage with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
Watkins took a short pass from Brady and raced 65 yards untouched into the end zone. Westwood conceded a two-point safety following a stalled drive by Winnipeg, giving Montreal a 16-10 lead after 30 minutes.