It was a game that Calgary had to have.
After watching Saskatchewan beat the Lions the night before, the Stampeders knew that a loss to the Bombers at home would all but seal their fate in the race to host the West Final.
It was the kind of game that reminds people why we love the CFL as it came down to a Hail Mary toss from a one-legged quarterback with zeroes on the clock.
Let’s take a look at a few of the things that stood out.
A brief rough patch
For a few minutes early in the second quarter, the world came crashing in on the Stamps as the Bombers turned two consecutive takeaways into touchdowns following a field goal. The 17-point explosion coincided with some nasty weather and left the Stamps trailing in a game they’d led just two minutes earlier.
“A little tiny storm rolled through. It was crazy…” Stampeders’ head coach Dave Dickenson said after the game, adding that those mistakes are especially costly against the Bombers.
The Bombers now have 99 points this season off turnovers and are behind only Calgary who added three to their league-leading total of 113.
A contrast of styles
Calgary and Winnipeg entered the game with two very different quarterbacks and opposite game plans.
The Bombers were the very definition of a balanced offence, calling 29 rushing plays and 29 passing plays.
The run game was far more efficient as the Bombers averaged 6.6 yards per carry for a total of 191 yards on the ground, while the pass game generated just 137 yards for a 4.8-yard average.
On the other side of the field, the Stampeders largely abandoned the run in favour of the hot hand of Bo Levi Mitchell.
Mitchell went 22/33 for 337 yards and would have had more if not for a few early drops from his normally sure-handed receivers. Eric Rogers opened the game with a 55-yard reception but then had the ball bounce off his fingertips in the end zone, which led to a field goal.
Terry Williams also had a drive killing drop, to match one from Reggie Begelton. However…
The everything Begel
It says here that Reggie Begelton will be the Stampeders nominee for MOP at the end of the season.
Now tied for the league lead in touchdowns, he trails only Bryan Burnham and Brandon Banks in receiving yards. He does have a game in hand on Burnham, though, while Banks may see less action down the stretch with Hamilton’s remaining games being meaningless from a standings perspective.
Begelton had a three-touchdown night to go along with 62 yards receiving on four catches.
While Begelton has had many great games this season, he felt some added pressure after appearing on the Horsemen Radio show this week (available where all podcasts are available and hosted by yours truly).
“I made a verbal contract with what I was going to do, and so I had to go out and do it. I didn’t want to let you guys down.”
For the record, Begelton suggested there would be a pair of receivers to go over 100 yards and a running back over 60. While that didn’t happen, this faithful scribe considers a trio of touchdown catches to be fair compensation.
In Huff* we trust
The mantra of “In Huf we trust” has long been uttered by Stamps fans, specifically in the area of roster composition and juggling. General manager John Hufnagel was faced with a tough task this week with the Stampeders facing a number of injuries.
However, a new receiver is making a name for himself and may be looking to make some spelling changes to the expression.
Josh Huff* had his second 100-plus yard game in this one, collecting 121 yards while catching all six of his targets from Bo Levi Mitchell.
Huff is replicating the success shown the last few weeks from Hergy Mayala who only saw the ball twice against the Bombers.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell thinks there’s a simple reason why those two have emerged.
“Confidence,” Mitchell said when asked what the difference was for Huff. “The more those guys have gotten into the game plan, have gotten the ball, and we’ve started to create things for them as well and not just leave them on the side and get them to run clear routes. They feel more into the game.”
To two or not to two?
Saturday’s game also featured a clash of styles when it came to what to do following a touchdown.
Calgary had four major scores on the night for a total of 31 points as they successfully scored on three two-point conversion attempts.
Conversely, the Bombers had three majors for a total of 21 points and lost by four.
If Mike O’Shea had called for and been successful on any two-point conversion during the previous three quarters, a field goal would have tied the game at the end. This means the Bombers wouldn’t have had to have been so aggressive trying to get the ball downfield late in the game.
Dickenson discussed his philosophy when it comes to the two-point try.
“I like to go for two when you are ahead,” Dickenson said. “Obviously when you are behind by eight it’s easy to go for two, that’s the right call.”
“When they work it makes you look smarter than you are,” he added, “but I think it needs to be known that we are going to go for it. Especially offensively. We weren’t necessarily stopping them, so we knew points were at a premium.”
Specials go scoreless
In the last game against the Bombers, it was two special teams touchdowns that made the difference and, when Rene Paredes missed a late field goal, one could forgive Stamps fans for feeling a lump appear in the pit of their stomachs.
After all, the Stamps have given up five return TDs this season already and Janarion Grant was back to receive. However, the Stampeders were able to make the tackle and prevent Winnipeg from adding a special teams touchdown on a night that already featured a defensive scoop and score effort earlier in the game.
The Stampeders did allow Grant more than 100 yards on kickoff returns, the longest being a 50-yarder in the second quarter that led to a field goal.
Ante Milanovic-Litre made his first career start and, while he made some nice runs, he also had a major gaffe in the second quarter with a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
The search for the answer at running back continues for the Stampeders who have lost Romar Morris and Ka’Deem Carey for the season, and had Don Jackson on the one-game injured list this week.
The lack of production this season in the run game may be why the Stampeders have struggled to put teams away late.
Keep your enemies closer
The Stampeders have had a few blowout wins this year but with just two games to go this season, the close game has become the norm.
12 times the Stampeders have been in games decided by a touchdown. They are 7-5 in those games.
The other four games featured wins by 10 or more points.
In other words, the Stamps have been in every game this year and will likely benefit from being close so often over the course of the next five weeks as Grey Cup approaches. Winning close games and having won six of their last seven has to help with the mental toughness aspect of the game.
Next up for the Stamps is a six-day preparation schedule for the Bombers again in the two team’s first home-and-home since 2007.