The Calgary Stampeders can be forgiven for having author Mark Twain in the front of their minds after a dominant 39-10 win over the B.C. Lions this week.
“The report of my death was an exaggeration,” Twain wrote to the New York Journal who had contacted the author to verify rumours of his demise swirling out of London, England in 1897.
Like Twain in 1897, the Stampeders of 2021 are also proving to be alive and well after back-to-back wins over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and a destruction of the well-rested B.C. Lions moves the team into third place, a half game behind the Riders for second.
Ante Milanovic-Litre has taken some criticism in this space over the course of the season as his rushing offense hasn’t been quite what it has been in the past.
However, he made one of the plays of the night in this game as he got around coverage to block a punt with his chest late in the second quarter.
The ball did end up travelling about 20 yards before it was returned, but Calgary got the ball at midfield and were able to take a 10 point lead into the locker room at halftime with a field goal as time expired.
It was a great play from Milanovic-Litre to keep building the Stamps’ momentum.
Roc the house
All season long, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Stampeders would have a return touchdown given the stellar return skills of Malik Henry.
However, it was fresh-off-the-practice-roster running back Roc Thomas who ended up being the beneficiary of the Stampeders’ blocking schemes when he found himself going 101 yards to the house to kick off the second half in style.
Utilizing a spin move to escape the pack, Thomas also deftly used his blockers along the way to get to the end zone.
For his part, Malik Henry also had a long return with potential but was eventually tripped up by the Lions punter as the last man to beat.
This Calgary defence is really starting to come together in a way that should terrify teams headed down the stretch into the playoffs.
Michael Reilly was only able to complete 13 passes for 145 yards on the day to go with two fourth quarter interceptions that sealed the Lions fate.
That marked the lowest number of completions and second lowest yardage total on the season.
Nathan Rourke was able to get 115 garbage time yards but eventually ended up also turning the ball over on downs near the goal line in what was essentially an exercise in getting reps with the game well out of reach.
This defence is starting to shut everyone down, as cohesion is beginning to become evident.
With all the offseason changes and the cancelled season making for a significant overhaul in personnel, some growing pains were to be expected, but defensive coordinator Brent Monson has this unit finely tuned at the most essential point of the season.
The defensive line also had Reilly frequently on the run, coming up with three sacks and chasing the veteran QB from the pocket on several occasions.
The combination of pressure up front, a smothering defensive backfield, and a tackle collector like Darnell Sankey in the middle of it all has Stamps fans very happy indeed.
Very special teams coverage
As good as the defence has been during this stretch, the special teams cover unit may be even better.
Calgary’s punt team is nearly two full yards better than the second place team in the league this season on punt coverage and were tied coming into this weekend for lowest kick return average against as well.
It is only a matter of time before Mark Kilam has “head coach” on his business card, but for now, Calgary can continue to have the best in the game sprinting up and down the sidelines, with his curly mop of hair bouncing wildly as he celebrates yet another successful play.
Through 10 games so far, the Stamps have given up just one return of more than 30 yards on punts and kickoffs combined, while generating five of their own, including tonight’s TD to open the second half.
Bo covers the field
Bo Levi Mitchell utilized his whole offensive team tonight through the air with nine different players catching a pass from the Texas gunslinger.
More interestingly, none of those players amassed more than 60 total yards on the day, when Bo finished with 270 yards through the air.
“I think we are just starting to lock in to who guys are, and who is good at what routes. The thing is, they are all so versatile. Some guys are really stepping up and playing above their age,” Mitchell remarked after the game.
Mitchell also had his first game without an interception on the season.
“Didn’t throw a pick, let’s (expletive) go!” the QB smiled as he threw his hands in the air, visibly relieved to be sitting down and discussing what might have been his finest game of the season.
Chock full of Moxey
Jonathan Moxey reeled in his second interception of the season before bobbing and weaving his way 53 yards to the end zone.
It was an experience he hadn’t felt in a while. Moxey had to think about how long it had been when asked by Postmedia’s Danny Austin.
“It was probably my senior year in high school. I didn’t get into the end zone in college. Had a few picks but never got into the end zone. I’m sure my Mom will be ecstatic, and I’m waiting to call her as soon as I get off this Zoom.”
Moxey had the second pick of the night and drove home the final nail in this game taking the score completely out of reach.
Hakunavanhu gets his first
When Luther Hakunavanhu went up for the ball and came down with it for his very first CFL touchdown in the first quarter, it really spoke to how he continues to surprise in this rookie season.
Drafted in the fifth round, the six-foot-four, 204-pound receiver was supposed to go back for a final year of college.
Instead, he has now gotten into three games at the pro level catching seven of eight total targets for 144 yards and a score.
Hakunavanhu has more games, catches, yards, and scores than the rest of his draft class combined to this point.
Bo Levi Mitchell is not at all surprised by the play of the rookie so far.
“(Luther) did a hell of a job tonight. He didn’t seem frazzled at all. We had one mess up on the formation, but he still caught the checkdown, turned it up and got five or six yards, which was big,” he said.
Hakunavanhu is the tallest of the Stampeders receiving crew, and showed it going over the Lions DB’s to make the TD grab.
The Edmonton product gave credit to former CFL journeyman Kamau Peterson as a big part of his success. “(Kamau) is always in my ear, someone I can talk to as the season goes on.” Hakunavanhu went on to praise Peterson for supplying him with the mindset to allow him to be ready when called upon.
Who needs rest?
One of football’s old adages talks of the difficulty of beating a team coming off a bye week, but that doesn’t hold any water in Calgary as of late.
The Stampeders are now 15-1 since 2014 when facing a team with the extra rest.
Meanwhile, when flipping the conversation, the Stampeders are 15-2 in the last decade when getting some time off themselves.
So the lesson here is if either Calgary or the other team had a bye week ahead of a game, head to Bodog.ca and bet the Stamps (or bet against them, either way just don’t blame me!)
Rene the robot
Rene Paredes is back on top of the field goal percentage chart for the league after a six-for-six night. Paredes is one of the leagues best kickers ever, and at this point of the season has completed more kicks than any other team has attempted.
Paredes is 35/39 on the season and should he make his next kick, that will raise him to a 90% success rate. He has also been perfect on converts this year as well, making all 15 of his attempts.
“He’s been money, he’s been great,” said Dickenson following the game. “Not necessarily looking for six field goals a game, but I do think as a team we are going to start getting some touchdowns. There were plays to be made. Some of it was B.C. forcing the issue, their D line got home a few times.
“We got a time count that hurt us one time, so we can look in the mirror on that one. When you are in the green zone, a lot of times it’s about who is better one versus one and I want to find ways for our guys to step it up and get six points instead of three.”
The next chance for the Stampeders to get six instead of three comes at home for the Pink Power game against Saskatchewan, who are coming off a bye, on Oct. 23.