Lions suffer death by a thousand cuts as Stamps clinch home playoff date

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

It had been a year to remember in the CFL, a consistent display of sparkling offensive prowess, hard-hitting defence and heart-pounding action.

Prior to the season finale on the West Coast, the 80 previous games had averaged a combined 43.9 points and over 56 percent had been decided in the final three minutes. A fitting end to the regular season would have seen a back and forth exchange of explosive plays coming down to the wire.

Indeed, it was another game that came down to the final moments but the promised offensive outbursts never truly arose. Instead, it was a death by a thousand paper cuts as the Calgary Stampeders sealed a home playoff game by silencing the lowly B.C. Lions in a game far slower and sloppier then the scoreboard would suggest.

It seemed only the kickers really came to play in the first half, while everyone on both offences seemed to come up just a little bit short.

Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell looked to the end-zone three times in the opening 30 minutes but was rebuffed each time by a Lions’ defender, seeing his balls batted down by Isaiah Guzylak-Messam, intercepted by T.J. Lee and punched out of Reggie Begelton’s hands by Branden Dozier. He failed to capitalize on long completions to Aaron Peck and Hergy Mayala and the Stampeders settled for four field goals.

For their part, the B.C. Lions generated little in response. The team was forced to concede a safety after Lee’s interception and scored their only field goal courtesy of a long Jamari Gilbert pass interference penalty.

The two teams went in to the half with Calgary leading 14-3 without having scored a touchdown and B.C. boasting only 62 yards of net offence.

It was then that the Lions turned to an unlikely source for an offensive spark: Canadian quarterback Brandon Bridge, just weeks removed from free agency. It didn’t work as planned and B.C. was forced to punt, but the Lions’ gambled on the fake and Brandon Rutley rumbled 36 yards into the red zone. A pass interference call against Lorenzo Jerome put the ball on the one-yard line and the replaced Danny O’Brien plunged in for the game’s first touchdown. It would maintain that dubious distinction until 3:37 remained in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Mitchell and the Stampeders’ offence finally broke through, with the quarterback finding his new favourite target, rookie Hergy Mayala, for gains of 18 and 36 yards before hitting him again on a vicious double move in the end zone to make it 21-10.

The Lions, however, refused to be put out of their misery and Bridge found Ryan Lankford down the sideline for 43 yards on a desperation third down scramble. He backed that up with a 17-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Burnham to start the comeback but then badly flubbed the two-point attempt.

Bridge would get the ball back one final time but couldn’t overcome his own limitations and was intercepted by Dexter McCoil to end the game at 21-16.

Mitchell had a largely forgettable evening, throwing for 283 yards, a touchdown and a pick in a game where his deep ball fell consistently out of reach for his receivers and he saw seven passes batted away by the B.C. secondary.

Bridge was respectable in relief but struggled with mental errors throughout his second half of action, tossing for 194 yards and two interceptions to go with his lone touchdown.

The Canadian rookie Mayala was the lone player on either team to cross the century mark for yardage. He recorded 103 yards on five receptions in a game more largely defined by its defence and ineptitude.

With the victory, Calgary will play host to Winnipeg at McMahon Stadium next week for the West Division Semi-Final, while B.C. heads to their couches to wonder what went wrong.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.