TORONTO - The Calgary Stampeders were on the verge of completing a brutal stretch of three games in 14 days with a perfect record until they imploded in the fourth quarter against the Toronto Argonauts on Wednesday night.
Turnovers, bad penalties and even worse decisions led to a 27-24 loss in a game quarterback Henry Burris and his teammates felt they gave away.
"Big time," said Burris. "We can't let a team hang around, we said that in game one. We've got to play better offensively, our defence has done a great job for us but we kept them on the field way too long and gave Toronto way too good field position after turnovers.
"They did what any professional team would do, cash in their opportunities."
Jeff Johnson's one-yard TD run with less than two minutes left capped Toronto's rally from a 24-15 deficit through three quarters. A single 1:43 into the final frame made it an eight-point game and after a Burris interception helped set up a field goal at 3:38, he was picked again later in the quarter giving the Argos strong field position that eventually led to Johnson's score and a two-point convert.
Burris was picked off four times in all in during he described as "a nightmarish game," negating his three touchdown passes and 207 yards passing as the Stampeders fell to 2-1 on the season.
"We've got to execute better and get on the same page as an offence," said Burris. "We do have a lot of new faces on our offence, but we can't perform that bad and I can't perform that bad and expect us to win. The defence did a great job of keeping us in it, we left them on the field too long."
The Stampeders had the ball for 28:58, but given that they had just three days off following their 23-22 win Saturday at Hamilton, that wasn't enough. Head coach and general manager John Hufnagel wouldn't use fatigue as an excuse for the offence's performance, but suggested it was a factor when the defence wilted.
"Our defence was on the field way too much in the first half and they might have worn down a little bit in the second," he said. "But we also had some not real good penalties that hurt us defensively also."
The Stamps took nine penalties costing them 69 yards compared to five for 25 by the Argos and the fatigue may have surfaced in the players' poor judgment.
"Most of the time it's mental things that kick in first," said defensive end Mike Labinjo. "The body will always keep going but sometimes when you're fatigued, guys tend to lose focus and it was clearly evident towards the end of the game."
The Stampeders opened the season on July 1 with a 30-16 win over Argos and now won't play again until July 24, when they host the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The rest will come in handy in a variety of ways.
"I think a lot of guys are glad that it's over and for us to come out 2-1, you can't be too down about that," said Labinjo. "It would have been nice to be 3-0 but I think guys are looking forward to getting a little break here."
Hufnagel, however, was in no mood for silver linings.
"(A 2-1 record) is not acceptable because we had a chance to win this game and we lost it," he said. "It doesn't matter what our record was, we had the game in hand and Toronto took it away from us."