Winning hasn’t gotten old for Wally Buono.
Chris Rainey brought a punt back 72 yards for a touchdown and ran in another score as the B.C. Lions defeated the Calgary Stampeders 20-18 in Buono’s return to the sidelines Saturday to close out Week 1 of the CFL season.
“It takes a lot of hard work to win,” said Buono. “Sometimes you’ve got to be nice to people, sometimes you’ve got to be hard with people. Tonight was a perfect example of all of that.”
The 66-year-old, who set a new CFL record by starting a 23rd CFL season as a head coach, is back in charge for the first time since 2011 after the club parted ways with the one-and-done Jeff Tedford following a disappointing 2015.
Buono – also B.C.’s general manager and vice-president of football operations – added to his all-time mark with the 255th victory of his career, but it wasn’t pretty.
The Lions had a jaw-dropping three punts blocked or partially blocked in the first half, but still managed to pick up the win thanks to strong defence, some big plays, and a grinding ground game late.
“Whether it was my first win or my whatever, winning is still fun,” said Buono. “When you win at home, when you win under the pressure that the guys were under, when you play a good football team and you come back, there’s a lot to be proud of, but there’s a lot to look at and fix.”
Richie Leone was 2 of 3 on field goals and quarterback Jonathon Jennings connected on a two-point conversion with Nick Moore to round out the scoring for the Lions.
“We just kept fighting and guys continued to believe that we were going to win,” said Jennings, who finished 24-of-42 passing for 248 yards. “Wally’s been talking about just compete, compete, compete.”
Kamar Jorden and Jerome Messam scored touchdowns for Calgary in rookie head coach Dave Dickenson’s debut, while Rene Parades hit one field goal, missed two others for singles, and was 1 of 2 on extra points.
The Stampeders could have put the Lions away early, but instead were left searching for answers.
“I think we let one slip,” said Dickenson, who played five seasons for the Lions under Buono. “There was a lot mistakes, probably from both teams, but certainly it seemed ours were magnified.”
After scampering in from a yard out on the final play of third quarter to cut the visitors’ lead to 17-12, Rainey collected a punt in his own territory and ran untouched into the Calgary end zone to electrify the crowd of 21,386 at B.C. Place Stadium.
Jennings then connected with Moore to make it 20-17.
“That was an ugly game, but we pulled out with a win,” said Rainey, who finished with 157 total yards. “We’ve just got to keep going.”
Calgary drove the ball deep inside B.C. territory with under four minutes to go, but had to settle for just a single point after Parades completely shanked a 31-yard field goal.
The Lions would never give the ball back from there thanks to a pounding ground game from Jennings, running back Jeremiah Johnson and a bruising offensive line.
Dickenson, some 396 regular-season games behind Buono in league coaching appearances, lost his first outing after taking over from John Hufnagel, who remains the club’s GM, following seven seasons as the Stampeders’ offensive co-ordinator.
Down 10-3 after a sloppy first half, the Lions cut the deficit to four on Leone’s 31-yard field goal.
But Calgary responded with a 59-yard kickoff return from Roy Finch that set his team up at the B.C. 38. Two plays later quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who finished 16 of 27 for 233 yards, connected with a 31-yard pass to Lemar Durant at the Lions’ two before Messam powered the ball over the goal-line. Parades’ extra point made it 17-6.
The Lions came back the other way with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by that one-yard run by Rainey, but Jennings’ two-point conversion pass fell incomplete to make the score 17-12 heading to the fourth.
After the Lions conceded a single following Parades’ missed field goal from 47 yards out with under six minutes to go in the first, the Stampeders started to give the hosts headaches on special teams.
Glenn Love partially blocked a Leone punt late in the quarter before scooping up another blocked punt and running it to the Lions’ one after Parades had made it 4-0 on a 37-yard field goal early in the second.
But the Lions defence stopped the Stampeders twice at their own goal-line, and then B.C.’s Mic’heal Brooks stuffed back-up quarterback Drew Tate on third down after Calgary faked a field goal to keep the deficit at four.
The Stampeders partially blocked a third Leone punt later in the half that was returned to B.C.’s 48, and Mitchell would eventually hook up with Jorden from 18 yards out to make it 10-0 after Parades missed the convert.
The Lions drove down late in the half only to see Leone miss a 35-yard field attempt, but got the ball back to put their kicker in position to get another shot from 43, which he made with just six seconds left on the clock to make it 10-3.
“I know what (the win) means to me and I think I know what it means to the organization,” said Buono. “Celebrate tonight, enjoy it tomorrow, forget about it on Monday.”