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“LOSING’S DISAPPOINTING. IT SUCKS.’

As one man made the rounds of a room that he’s come to regard as a second home, going player-to-player to offer thanks and support, a hand-clasp or a hug, that end-of-an-era feeling reverberated in waves.

“One word? Shock,” confessed defensive back Brandon Smith, peeling off, for a final time, the red-and-white livery he’s modelled with a singular distinction for over a decade.

“I wasn’t ready for it to end like this. None of us were. We had the intention – and every expectation – of moving forward.

“But it’s professional football. (It) happens. The reason they came out to play today was to send us home, to knock us off, to beat the champs.

“And they did that. Credit them.

“For me, now, there’s no next game.

“Because I mean, that’s why I’ve gone out and emptied it every week for as long as I have. You never know when you’re last game, your last play, might be.

“Well, I know. But, no, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet.”

They’ll all, each and every one of the Stampeders, need some regrouping time after being overrun in the second half, their dreams of a home Grey Cup title detailed after being beaten 35-14 by the invading Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Sunday’s Western Semi-Final.

“I don’t have the answers,’’ said downcast coach Dave Dickenson, who’d piloted his charges to appearances in the last three title tilts. “Really, we just got out-coached and outplayed. Gotta look in the mirror on that.

“We got beat. The team that played the best won the football game. They did some new stuff, had some difference coverages, did a good job with their bye week. Just tweaks.

“Like someone said, you could tell … we just honestly weren’t honestly on the same page. (Mitchell) lost his eyes, he didn’t trust the guys a little bit. Ultimately, your quarterback has to be better than theirs to win.

“And it just didn’t happen.”

 

 

So many moments that flip-flopped a 14-8 halftime advantage into a cosmetically-lopsided loss linger will linger in mind’s-eye until training camp 2020 kicks off: Nic Demski’s slicing through the Stampeder resistance like filleting a freshly caught Manitoba Smoked Goldeye for a 33-yard touchdown gallop. Bomber deep-threat Darvin Adams getting in behind Tre Roberson to latch onto a Zach Collaros bomb and turning it into a 71-yard major. Chris Streveler powering over people in his change-of-pace role to Collaros, capping his night of battering-ram run production with a 17-yard TD ramble.

“He brought another element and definitely changed the game,’’ said linebacker Wynton McManis, of Streveler. “Getting them key first downs we they needed it. Credit to them.”

Then there were the two second-half Bomber interceptions of Bo Levi Mitchell. In such a rich vein of form of late, Mitchell suffered through a rare afternoon of struggle, finishing with 12 completions on 28 attempts, 116 yards, one TD and three picks.

“Just didn’t have my stuff today,” he explained post-game. “The stuff I need to lead our guys. That’s what I’m paid to do; that’s my job as a quarterback.

“Didn’t execute when we had to. Me and the receivers were a little off on some things, route-wise, yardage-wise, distance-wise.

“Things like that.

“They did a good job, man. They’re a great defence, very well coached.

“With success comes failure. Gotta go through it. Gotta keep you chin up.”

 

 

The end, though, is undeniably bitter for a group that had exceeded the expectations of many to fast-track the build on a revised foundation:  Overcoming a plague of injuries to key personnel and off-season departures to post a 12-6 record, nailing down another in a long list of home playoff dates, and the emergence of new stars to replace familiar heroes.

“I’m really proud of the players, the coaching staff, for giving it a good run,’’ said Dickenson. “Everyone bought in and did everything they could.

“Losing’s disappointing. It sucks. But that’s pro sports.

“We just honestly felt like we were trying to climb, climb, climb and couldn’t quite get to the top. But the guys never relaxed, played hard.

“Just didn’t make enough plays.”

In spite of the progress, there’ll be long winter of overall evaluation and personal self-analysis.

“Honestly, in the first half we had control of that game,’’ said offensive tackle Derek Dennis. “We had opportunities to go up big.

“We didn’t take ‘em and the second half just got away from us.”