In the footnotes of history, it will be painfully obvious in hindsight that this wasn’t a surprise. The Calgary Stampeders were the best team in the league through 17 weeks of the CFL regular season, and they built a foundation that gave them first place in the West Division.
But what happened in the final three weeks set the doubters ablaze to voice their concerns about the Stamps chances in the West final as they limped into the post-season.
The red-hot Edmonton Eskimos were coming into town carrying all that momentum a team usually gains from winning their way into the divisional championship.
It seemed like the stars were aligning for the Eskimos to knock off the Stamps in one of their regular playoff failings. Of course, those ‘failings’ are way overblown. The Stamps have been to the Grey Cup more than any other team over the past five seasons (three appearances, one win), and they have more victories than any other franchise in the past 25 seasons (five).
What we (you can call me one of the doubters) seemed to ignore was that this team didn’t need to be great over the last month. They just needed to be good enough on this day, 60 minutes to get into the big game.
They were better than that, even though things started off as poorly as those doubters expected. The Eskimos came out with two great drives to go up 14-0 before Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stamps offence could run a third play.
The Stamps just turned things on a dime right there, and it took a play by an offensive lineman to make that happen.
Mitchell hit right tackle Dan Federkeil on a tight-end option play that got the Stamps 16 yards. A couple of plays later they were on the board, and the comeback was in full swing.
Before the end of the second quarter, return specialist Roy Finch scored on a 50-yard rush to give the Stamps a ton of great feeling heading into halftime. They scored 22 second-quarter points to lead 22-15 at the break.
Finch became a secret weapon that wasn’t much of a secret. The West Division special teams player of the year nominee came back from injury and was expected to make an impact, but the Stamps decided to use him a one-two punch with Jerome Messam and it worked well.
Finch got just four carries, but put up 81 yards, while Messam lugged the ball 13 times — far fewer than his average per game this season — but he put up a respectable 71 yards and also scored along the ground.
The Stamps defence allowed early points but kept the explosive Eskimos offence in check for a great deal of the game to let the home side hold that lead. They made an excellent receiving corps seem just average, and CJ Gable was just OK as he was held to a 4.5-yard average.
Special teams did its job and the Stamps offence put up points. All three phases came together for the victory.
What this means is the Stamps are back in the big game for the third time in four seasons.
This is a rematch of the 2012 Grey Cup in Toronto but these teams are much different now, although Ricky Ray is still leading the Argos.
This time though the Stamps seem destined to complete the deal. They turned it on when it mattered, and the Argonauts don’t seem to be the level that even the Ottawa RedBlacks were last season.
Of course, anything can happen in one game, but the Stamps have learned the lessons of the past.
They also want to keep proving the doubters wrong.