Prior to kickoff, the Saturday night tilt between the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders was billed as a showdown of elite franchise quarterbacks.
The league’s highest paid pivots in Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell matched up for the first time since the former signed in B.C. with each looking for their club’s first win of the year.
And after all that hype, it was a backup who finished the job.
The Stamps came all the way back after trailing the entire game to stun the Lions 36-32 in dramatic fashion at the hands of Nick Arbuckle.
The first drive for Reilly didn’t appear to start off well. Tre Roberson – who else – had a would-be pick six before DeVone Claybrooks successfully challenged a roughing the passer call. Reilly was struck underneath the chin from defensive lineman Ivan McLennan after releasing the ball, adding to the tally of head shots suffered by quarterbacks this year.
A swing pass to John White on the next play had B.C. add eight points rather than lose fall behind by a major. The Lions new head coach is 3-for-3 on challenges this year, this one during his return to Calgary.
The Lions extended their lead a little later in the frame as Bryan Burnham drew a questionable end zone pass interference call in double coverage. Reilly narrowly avoided a sack by Cory Greenwood on the play. White then took it across the goal line and it was 15-0. The QB completed his first 14 passes.
B.C. handed the ball off to their back with far more frequency than their last tilt against the Eskimos. White had eight touches last week compared to 14 this time around and nine more in the air.
After the first quarter, the Lions offence had the ball for more than nine of the first 15 minutes, helped by eight first downs and some penalties. The offensive line also gave their quarterback lots more time in the pocket than in Week 2, where Reilly was sacked seven times, tying a career high. He was brought down just twice on Saturday.
The Leos chewed up over 37 minutes of the game clock in this one compared to Calgary’s 22 minutes and change.
A missed coffin corner punt had Calgary on the board, before Reilly and company went back to work in the second. A penalty once against cost Calgary a chance on offence and points were put up against them.
Flagged for roughing the kicker, the Lions got a fresh set of downs and made full use of their second life. Just three plays later Reilly connected with Lemar Durant for a 22-yard touchdown and the lead was 22-1 after an ensuing single.
It was then Mitchell’s turn to go to work. A 10-play drive saw the 29-year-old find three different receivers for over 10-yard gains, the biggest going for 22 yards into the hands of Reggie Begelton. The drive ended on a short pass to Eric Rogers who crossed the plain. A two-point conversion and an ensuing single later cut the Lions lead to 12.
The Stamps defence added to the momentum. Reilly marched the offence down the field inside the final two minutes of the half but was ultimately stuffed on a third down goal line play, so their lead remained 22-10 heading into the break.
Defence continued to shine in the third, albeit for the opposing team. Former Eskimo Aaron Grymes picked off Mitchell. Then on their next drive, Mat “Thor” Boesen got behind the offensive line and the rookie brought Markeith Ambles down for a loss of eight. Calgary settled for a 43-yard field goal on the same drive.
That’s all the scoring the third saw but Reilly was marching down the field as the teams swapped ends. Racking up big yards through the air using different receivers along the way had them at midfield starting the fourth. It took two more receptions for the veteran to toss for over 300 yards, with the series ending in a chip shot field goal. Reilly went 36-for-42 for 354 yards with a pair of touchdowns and another rushing score with a pick.
Calgary made quick work to get them to within a score in the final frame. Mitchell found Ambles for 28 yards, and then Rogers for his second touchdown, this one a 44-yarder.
Claybrooks then threw his challenge flag for the second time, a new rule this year that allows coaches to throw the flag again if they were successful the first time. The play in question was a sideline reception by Durant and whether he was in bounds or not. The command centre overturned the incompletion, making it a 24-yard reception. The Lions coach remains perfect for his 2019 challenges.
Facing a long second and goal, Reilly took it himself down the middle and the time-killing drive put the Leos up 11 with four minutes to spare.
In the final minutes, Mitchell went to the sidelines showing discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Mitchell tossed for 252 yards on 23-for-34 pass attempts with a pair of touchdowns and an interception.
Arbuckle came in and led a touchdown drive down the field which he finished on a plunge himself. He then found Rogers for the two-point convert and Calgary trailed by just three with 1:20 remaining.
Then one of the rarest plays was made in football: a successful onside kick. The Stamps pounced on the short kick and it was Arbuckle behind centre at the helm of the potential game-winning drive.
And he looked just like Mitchell. A screen play was followed up by a Don Jackson run and then Arbuckle found Richie Sindani down the middle for 27 yards and the ball was on the 11.
Two plays later, Arbuckle completed the comeback. He found Rogers for his third touchdown of the game and the Stamps grabbed their only lead of the game with 31 seconds to play. He completed all nine of his passes for 93 yards in his two drives. Rogers and Ambles both surpassed the century mark in receiving yards.
Reilly could not connect on the deep ball and then fumbled as he got hit with Calgary recovering and it was another missed opportunity for the Lions at McMahon Stadium.
You didn’t think the mighty Stampeders would lose two games in a row, did you?
The Lions will try to shake this one off in time for their game against Toronto next week, while Calgary plays Saskatchewan in Week 4.