When the Calgary Stampeders went into Ottawa to face the Redblacks on Friday, it had all the hallmarks of a contest that Admiral Akbar would have been very scared of.
That is to say, it looked like a trap.
Headed into a game against a floundering team on a four-game losing streak that had just fired their general manager and was playing a third-string QB, the Stampeders still needed to focus and come away with a positive result to continue their late push for a playoff spot in the CFL West division.
The trap seemed to be sprung when the Redblacks got out to a 10-3 lead on a 11-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stafford at the end of the first quarter.
The Stampeders responded with an immediate TD drive of their own, capitalizing on a long throw pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to Colton Hunchack, which set the stage for Ka’Deem Carey’s sixth rushing TD of the year.
The Stampeders would never trail the rest of the way, going on to win 26-13.
The bakery is closed
But for a late fumble of no consequence by Ante Milanovic-Litre — spoiling his best effort of the season — the Stampeders weren’t offering up any turnovers to the Redblacks in this one.
Coming off of a three point loss to Saskatchewan that saw three interceptions thrown by Mitchell, the Stampeders knew they needed to clean it up.
“We really came to came to the conclusion that nobody can stop us if we can take care of the ball as an offense,” Ka’Deem Carey said of the emphasis the Stampeders are putting on limiting mistakes after the game.
“If we don’t just let teams get into the game by turning it over two or three times, fumbles, interceptions, or anything, then we will be a very dangerous team. That’s what we are looking to do, just protect the ball moving forward.”
The Stampeders have surrendered 73 points off of 28 turnovers so far this season, and only the Redblacks are worse at 99 on 34 giveaways.
On the other side of the ball, they have scored 46 points off of 16 takeaways.
Given the razor thin margins of Stampeders losses this season, with all but one within six or fewer points, the turnover battle may end up being the story regardless of which way the season concludes.
30K and climbing
Bo Levi Mitchell entered rare company with a 17-yard completion to Milanovic-Litre in the first quarter, becoming just the 18th player in CFL history to pass for more than 30,000 career yards.
After the game, Mitchell reflected on his milestone but was a little unhappy in finding out where he was on the list for fewest amount of starts to hit the milestone.
“(TSN’s Claire Hanna) just showed me the stat of the quarterbacks and the games,” he said, referencing how many starts it took for other QB’s to hit the mark. “Now I’m kinda pissed, because I could have done it two games earlier, and been ahead of some of those guys and gave them some (grief) about it.”
Bo accomplished the mark in 106 games, fifth fastest all time. That’s tied with Michael Reilly, one game faster than Henry Burris, and one game slower than Ricky Ray.
Doug Flutie was fastest to the mark, getting there in just 90 starts. Kent Austin and Danny McManus were also faster than Mitchell.
On a more serious note, Mitchell reflected on his journey to 30,000 saying “it’s awesome, because I’ve been here a long time, and obviously those things have to keep falling into place.”
A fascinating factoid: both the players with the highest and lowest amount of receiving yardage from Mitchell on his way to the milestone are currently on the Stampeders coaching staff. Marquay McDaniel led the way with 3843 yards, and Corey Mace had a one yard TD catch from Mitchell in 2012.
Not Good enough
The Stampeders were able to get to Redblacks QB Caleb Evans on five occasions in this game, but defensive lineman Mike Rose was very blunt about the play of his unit.
“I’m gonna keep it real with y’all, we sucked on defence. We sucked. We did not play to our standard. We have to play much better,” he said frankly. “When I say we, I’m specifically talking about my group. I can’t speak to other groups, but I do not think we played to our ability. I think we are a much better group than that.”
Rose got to Evans twice to tie Shawn Lemon for the team lead in sacks with seven on the season. Rose says he is on the hunt for the overall team title.
“I told Crustyfoot (Rose’s oft used nickname for Lemon) that he just shot out early. You see, old people got to get everything early. I’m the consistent guy.”
When pressed to explain how a five sack performance could be viewed as a failure, Rose added “We need to play much better in the run game.”
While the team relatively held De’Lance Turner in check with 55 yards on 13 carries, Caleb Evans was able to break contain for 68 yards on 8 carries.
Coming into the game, the Stampeders were third in the league for fewest rushing yards per attempt.
Roberson ropes ’em in
Tre Roberson made his return to the field for the Stampeders in this game and head coach Dave Dickenson thought he offered a solid, if not flashy performance.
“I saw one good tackle, but otherwise I didn’t see him much….that’s not a always a horrible thing for a DB,” Dickenson explained. “I didn’t feel like people were completing balls on him either. I feel like he is going to make our team better.”
Roberson finished the day with four tackles.
While it does seem like Roberson will be a staple of the lineup going forward, the other positions may be in flux.
“I want to commend DaShaun Amos. He had a great attitude and a great week of practice as well,” the head coach added. “We’ll keep competing; and the best group out there plays and Tre’s going to be part of that.”
Next up for the Stampeders will be a lot of TV watching as both the Riders and Lions have two games each before the Stampeders play again.
Given the current state of the West Division standings, Calgary’s bye week could see them move anywhere from second (Riders lose both) to fourth (Riders and Lions both win both).
Both scenarios are unlikely given the four opponents, as the Riders see the Elks, which should be as close to a guaranteed win that one finds in today’s CFL and the Alouettes.
The Lions on the other hand have Toronto and Hamilton, both playoff bound, and have been outscored 84-10 in their last two games against playoff bound opponents.
The Stampeders will likely come out of the bye to face the Lions exactly where they are now, in third place.
*Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this article B.C. lost their game and Saskatchewan won theirs