Down 11 and staring the three minute warning in the face, disaster struck for the Calgary Stampeders Saturday night.
Not only were they about to fall to 0-2 on the season, with two straight losses at home, to their former defensive coordinator. But their franchise quarterback with the $650,000 arm was grimacing in pain holding his chest, seemingly unable to throw a ball.
It sucked the life out of a lifeless building when football resumed with Nick Arbuckle behind centre, wondering what to make of a season that had started off on such a sour note following the teams’s eighth Grey Cup win last November.
That mood lasted all of but a few minutes however as Arbuckle took the team on his shoulders, scoring a rushing TD with 1:25 left on the clock and threw the two-point conversion to Eric Rogers, bringing the home side within a field goal.
However, while an eight point play cuts into an 11 point deficit, it still doth butter no parsnips when it comes to the win column.
It heralded back to just one night earlier when the topic of onside kicks came up that prompted this exchange, reminding us how unlikely a successful attempt might be:
— Stats Junkie (@Stats_Junkie) June 28, 2019
However, a perfect kick from Rene Paredes, favourable wind, and a leaping Micheal Klukas later, the Stamps successfully executed the kick that everyone knew was coming and were back in business on the Lions 52-yard line.
It was likely either this exact moment or slightly before that Lions’ fans began to feel that all-to-familiar pucker in the seat of their pants, remembering just a few years ago, on July 29, 2016, when the Stamps rallied from 15 down with less than four minutes on the clock to win 44-41 in overtime.
Arbuckle proceeded to carve up the Lions secondary, eventually finding Rogers for his fourth of five scoring plays on the night. A TD at the back of the end zone, successful convert and all of a sudden the Stampeders found themselves protecting a four-point lead.
Cory Greenwood would sack Mike Reilly a few plays later, stripping the ball, with teammate Cordarro Law recovering.
Lions head coach DeVone Claybrooks will have to wait another week as his team let a 22-1 lead slip away for their third loss of the season. Fortunately, the sad sack Argos are next on the schedule and every team is making them look like a disaster so far this season.
Now some other musings from the game.
Injury bug is ravenous
On top of Bo Levi Mitchell being forced to leave the game – he said that it is possibly an issue with his pectoral muscle on his throwing side – the Stampeders hit parade just kept on coming. Long time vet defensive back Brandon Smith was forced from the game, rookie Canadian receiver Hergy Mayala was ruled out during warmup, and defensive lineman Ivan McLennan went down with an injury that Dave Dickenson described as “not very promising”. National pass catcher Juwan Brescacin was also injured.
Expect to see new Stampeder Jabar Westerman in the lineup, especially after the injury to McLennan. The Stampeders also executed a trade on Canada Day, sending the rights to a neg list player to the Bombers for Patrick Chouda, an international DL who may also end up rushed into the lineup.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood
I mentioned it earlier but it bears repeating: Eric Rogers had his hands on the ball for a completed catch in the end zone on five separate occasions during the game. Three touchdowns to go with a pair of two-point conversions part of his four other catches for a 100-yard performance.
He also recovered the onside kick at the end of the game to give the team the chance to win. On the game winner, Arbuckle knew there was only one place to put it for the star receiver.
“It was a route where he could have done a couple different things. I thought he was gonna do one thing, then he did the other thing, so I just thought throw it high. Put it up to where only he can get it,” Arbuckle said. “Me and Eric always talk about that. Just throw it up high and I’ll go get it. It’s fun to throw it to him, especially in the red zone.”
Rogers stated: “I’m a red zone machine.”
Catch of the game
Not often in a game that features this many passing TD’s will the catch of the game go to an offensive lineman, but Stampeders centre Ucambre Williams may have just earned that honour with a catch on a two-point conversion late in the second quarter. It wasn’t that he caught the ball, it was that he caught Markeith Ambles, who was spiraling through the air after diving towards the end zone and having his feet knocked out from under him.
When asked about his first conversion catch Williams joked.
“Maybe Dickie will put something in for next week for me, to help keep defences honest,” Williams said. “Hopefully my last two point conversion.”
Not sure how it counts on the official scoresheet though as he caught Ambles and carried him in without ever touching the ball.
Mike Reilly is rarely denied a yard when he lines up behind centre with the goal line in his immediate sights, but that’s exactly what happened on the final play of the first half. Dickenson knew exactly what that play meant.
“It won the game; I mean, you can’t ever say that one play wins or loses a game, but (score there and) they’re out of reach.”
The Lions held a 12-point lead at that point in the game already and it may have changed the complexion of the game in the mind of Nick Arbuckle.
“It was a huge momentum-builder in the locker room, being able to go into halftime with a different kind of energy.”
The defence needed that stop to make up for three Lions TD drives that were penalty-aided in the first half leading to the deficit at that point. The first was a roughing the passer call that wiped out a Tre Roberson pick-six on the Lions first drive that took a challenge to see.
Then a 40-yard pass interference call in the end zone put the ball on the one and the Lions were able to punch it in. The third drive also finished in the end zone after a roughing the kicker call. All three were legitimate penalties, but all three ended in disaster for the home team.
Next up is a trip to Regina to find out just what the hell happened to Gainer the Gopher next Saturday against the Roughriders.