Heading into the game against Saskatchewan there was a palpable sense of dread among the Stampeders fanbase.
Lose the game and a Western Division playoff spot is almost certainly lost with it.
Combine that with an absolute choke job by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and the slim crossover berth so many other teams start to cling to at this stage of the season also seemed less likely given the Montreal Alouettes remaining schedule, which features three games against the Ottawa Redblacks.
Watching that happen on the screen at McMahon, which delayed the start of the game in Calgary, made it seem as though this season of “close-but-not-enough” would continue.
The Stampeders seemed to be spurred on by the result however, amassing a 14-point first quarter lead that they would not relinquish, and would cling to victory with a 23-17 final score to keep the season alive.
There were several other things that stood out in this one including:
This week featured training camp cut Shawn Bane and a fresh off the six game injured list Malik Henry back in both the return game and in the receiving core, replacing injured Kamar Jorden and Josh Huff. Both Bane and Henry were able to find the end zone in the first quarter.
“That’s something I’ve dealt with a lot in my career, receivers moving around and they bring a lot of guys in, but I’ve always had trust in the guys they bring in. They brought Shawn (Bane) back like four or five days ago, and he comes in and has the game he has — that shows ultimate resiliency. I gave him and (Henry) the game ball, because I thought they both played well.”
Mitchell also mentioned that he expected to catch a little grief based on the two players getting TD passes from the former MOP.
“I know Huff is going to be mad at me — little Huff,” Mitchell said clarifying that he means Josh Huff and not general manager John Hufnagel. “They both got a touchdown before him, so I’m sure he’ll be talking about that.”
More than just offence
Henry was also dangerous on special teams where he was looking like a candidate for Most Outstanding Special Teams Player before being hurt as he collected 64 yards on five punt returns in the game.
Bane was no slouch either with a critical 37-yard return from deep in Stampeders territory late in the game to begin a drive that ended in a Rene Paredes field goal to provide the Stampeders a little breathing room on the scoreboard.
After last weeks absolute debacle of a special teams performance, Bane and Henry offered stability in the game’s third phase.
Great until gassed
A large, but typically ignored function of a great defence is a consistent offence that allows defenders to catch their breath by putting together drives that go for more than just two plays.
The Stampeders defence has been very good at keeping teams from crossing the goal line through three quarters for most of the season, allowing seven total touchdowns in eight games, they have allowed six touchdowns in the fourth quarter this season, including the last four times an opponent has entered the end zone.
The Stampeders have not allowed a TD through the first three quarters since losing to the Elks on Labour Day, which was also the last time they allowed more than a single touchdown in a game.
Defence wins championships, but only when they get a chance to breathe.
Third time is the charm
A bit of late game interest drawn from three consecutive onside kick attempts from the Riders, and they recovered all three of them. The first didn’t count because of interference, which was reviewed and called by the eye in the sky, the second was negated by a Calgary timeout called just before it was kicked, and the Riders finally recovered after Brett Lauther called his own number on a dribble kick that seemingly went 10.0001 yards before Lauther jumped on it.
Brilliant bit of improvisation from the Riders kicker who had to be helped off the field after being sandwiched between a pair of Stampeders.
Moxey takes it to the stage
The Riders comeback was snuffed by a pair of firsts following the onside kick. Andrew Seinet-Spaulding collected his first ever QB sack as he took down Cody Fajardo on a second down play.
The next play was a third down heave towards the end zone and Jonathan Moxey came down with the ball for his first CFL interception.
Once Moxey secured the ball and the win to go with it, he ran towards the stage beneath the scoreboard at McMahon to celebrate. The stage typically hosts the Outrider cheer team throughout the game. Moxey had other ideas.
“Maybe it was our stage. Maybe it was our turn to rock out. I just saw the stage and I was like: ‘Let’s just go up there.’ Our defence has fun, we play with a lot of swag, and I was glad we could get that group picture up there on the stage.”
In the olden days of the Dave Dickenson offence, Jon Cornish would churn up yards and the Stampeders would see about a 60-40 pass run ratio in their offence.
Cornish being a generational talent certainly didn’t hurt matters as he churned up yardage and killed clock for those teams.
This year hasn’t been quite the same but the Stampeders did run the ball 17 times to 26 pass attempts, the highest ratio of the season so far.
When asked if the script was results based, situational or a part of the script headed into the night, Dickenson still seemed to be uncomfortable with the results of the rushing attack.
“I thought we were just average in our run game,” Dickenson noted adding how the run is not just dependent on the offensive line, but the fullbacks and receivers as well.
“I didn’t think we were as good as we could have been….ultimately we are not where we need to be. We need to get a better push.”
Needing to Ante up
Further into the run game is the issue of Ante Milanovitch-Litre, who has for the last three games put up a pretty unique stat line — a longer carry than his total yards on each day. 14 total yards with a 17-yard longest carry against Edmonton on Labour Day, 12 total yards with a 13-yard longest carry in the rematch, and a total of minus-two yards with a long of three in this game.
Given Ka’Deem Carey’s injury history the Stamps can’t play him as an every down back, but can also ill afford rushing downs for no gain, or a loss when Carey goes to the sideline.
“(Ante) has got to look at it and see if he read the holes right. He’s got to get his shoulder pads over his toes and start running downhill. He’s a big strong guy,” Dickenson remarked after the game, but it wasn’t coming from a lack of faith in the running back out of Simon Fraser University.
“I think he’s got talent, I know he’s had success in the past — I’m confident in Ante.”
Mitchell took himself out
The last time the Stampeders took the field, Bo Levi Mitchell was pulled in the fourth quarter as his play that night warranted. On this night, he came out of the gate 9-for-9 with a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter.
By the end of the game, he was again on the bench. This time though, it was his decision.
What should concern Stampeder fans, and the club is that it was because of soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder after a hit, but it wasn’t the hit itself that was the issue.
“It’s something that’s been sore and been bothering me,” Mitchell told the post-game press. “I just didn’t think I had the pop,” he said referencing the ability to get the ball to the sideline with a throw.
“It’s something that I re-irritated and I’ll get it looked at. I’ll be fine and take the Michael Reilly route and have the doctors put some special sauce on it before the game.”
While backup QB Jake Meier was certainly not the reason the Stampeders lost in the games he started, there is no question Mitchell brings a different element to the huddle. One this Stampeders team may desperately need down the stretch.
If this is a return of any kind of substantial shoulder issue, the future in Calgary may not be as clear as anyone thought it was heading into this season.
A little credit where it is due
The Stampeders in house team certainly earned their money on this night. Whether it was the Rickroll in the middle of “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate” or the 13th Man reference in the “Cheer for what you like best” segment the team had the rivalry knob turned up to 11 and it was loudly cheered by the hometown fans.
Up next is the back half of a home and home with the Riders, yet another in what will be a string of must-win games for the Stampeders in October.