There was plenty of doom and gloom in Stampeder territory this past week as storm clouds piled up over McMahon Stadium.
Panic buttons were being pressed across the southern half of the province as the winless hometown squad headed into a game against the Montreal Alouettes, a team fresh-off a beatdown of the Edmonton Elks in Week 2.
Bo Levi Mitchell was ruled out for the foreseeable future with a broken leg. Immediately before the game, the Stampeders confirmed they would be starting two offensive tackles who had never started in the CFL to protect their rookie quarterback who would be making his first professional start.
However, there is a saying in Alberta: if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.
For the announced crowd of 21,199, that was the first quarter.
The Alouettes got into a groove early, taking a 14-3 lead five minutes into the second quarter and looked to be marching towards another score when Royce Metchie picked off Vernon Adams Jr. in the red zone, keeping the game within reach.
The Stampeders would score the next 25 points and survive a late surge, which included a snap hitting an in-motion Hergy Mayala and a last-second review of a potential touchdown catch by Eugene Lewis.
In the end, Calgary secured their first win of the season by a score of 28-22. Here are my takeaways on the game.
Jake Maier made his first ever start in the CFL and won his debut, joining Nick Arbuckle and Bo Levi Mitchell as active pivots to get a win in their first start in Calgary.
The game didn’t start well with Maier having his first three pass attempts touch Alouette hands. The first was a surefire interception that was dropped, the second was deflected at the line of scrimmage, while the third was a duck that was collected by defensive back Will Sutton.
Next up were a pair of completions, the first to Markeith Ambles and the second was collected one-handed by Richard Sindani off a deflection. The drive also ended with an interception, hardly making for an auspicious start.
Two-of-six with two interceptions and two knockdowns. Yikes.
“He can play better and he knows he can play better,” said head coach Dave Dickenson following the game. “As a first start, it was pretty impressive. I called the game like I had a vet in there. I called the game to win, aggressive.”
Maier would finish the game with 304 yards on 16-of-29 pass attempts with the two picks and a touchdown. The young passer knows it was ugly early.
“I definitely would have liked it to start better. As an offence, we weren’t executing and I was putting the ball in harms way. But I’m not an excuse-maker, that’s on me.”
Focus was key for the rookie QB, however, mentioning that the game slowed down when the offence worried only about the play they were on rather than looking back to what had been, or thinking ahead to what was coming.
Fresh faces on the O-line
Sean McEwen started at centre for the Stampeders but there wasn’t a whole lot of experience around him as Bryce Bell and Leon Johnson were pressed into duty playing tackle for the first time ever. Johnson was getting his first ever CFL game action, while Bell was playing his first game at tackle.
Add Zack Williams, making just his second career start, and the offensive line played way above expectation,s allowing the Stamps to collect 80 rushing yards, and only allowing a single sack.
“They kept me off the ground,” Maier told media after the game, which is the best thing a group of linemen could hear. “Those guys played their tails off, that’s all you can really ask for. I’m super proud of them.”
Flea flickery trickery
The game was pretty much cemented by a fourth quarter 83-yard catch-and-run flea flicker that ended on the one-yard line. Josh Huff made a great play to come back to the ball before turning on the jets and eventually being caught deep in the red zone.
The play would turn into a Ka’Deem Carey touchdown a few plays later as several penalty calls on both sides ground down the clock.
“I knew it was going to be there, if we could protect it. Was I a hair nervous? Sure. We kind of got fortunate as we underthrew it and he came back. Hergy was 20 yards ahead of his guy, though,” said Dickenson.
That marked Huff’s second trip inside the five coming away without a score. Huff also was tackled on the four-yard-line in the third quarter before Maier found Kamar Jorden in the end zone for the major.
Is it the wind?
Not sure what is going on so far this season in McMahon, but opposition kickers are now just four-for-nine in the aging stadium, while Mr. Consistent Rene Paredes is now nine-for-nine on the season.
David Cote added one miss to the total, scoring a rouge after a bobbled snap led to a pooch kick attempt at a field goal, his only one on the night.
Cote also sent one off the uprights and in on a fourth quarter convert that brought the Als within six at the time.
OK, but why?
The Stampeders were feeding off momentum when Montreal, at that point trailing by five, decided to give up a safety to make it a seven-point game. That was a few drives after punting out of their own end zone in order to preserve a two-point lead they had at the time.
A questionable decision especially when paired with the missed field goal. Those four points together would have meant Montreal would have only needed a field goal to win instead of the touchdown they nearly got.
Seems like Khari Jones out-coached himself during this one.
What’s my name?
Calgary’s receiving corps was much-maligned before the season and through he first weeks of the season for being “no-names.”
If Markeith Ambles, Josh Huff, and Jake Maier continue to have this kind of chemistry, they won’t be anonymous for long. Both Huff and Ambles had over 100 yards, catching five passes each on six targets.
Not so Super Mario
A large part of the victory for the Stamps was limiting Mario Alford, who absolutely killed the Elks last week.
Alford was held to just two punt returns for nine yards and five kickoff returns at an average of 21 yards. By comparison, he garnered 206 yards and a touchdown on seven kicks the week before.
Something tells me we won’t see Mark Kilam looking for work anytime soon given how pedestrian they made Super Mario appear to be.
The Stampeders can breath a quick sigh of relief after getting the monkey off their backs, but it won’t be long until the organ grinder fires up their favourite tune as the Stamps are in Winnipeg to play a dominant looking defending champion.