Stamps clinch playoff spot by beating Lions (& six other thoughts)

“Just when we thought they were out, they came right back in!”

That’s what Michael Corleone would probably say about this year’s Calgary Stampeders, a team that took a 2-5 record into the halfway mark of the season only to rally and clinch a league-best sixteenth consecutive playoff berth with a 33-23 victory over the BC Lions, improving their record to 7-6.

The Stampeders are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the league and are looking to keep rolling as they head home to finish off the regular season against Winnipeg next week.

There are more than a few reasons for the teams recent success, and they were on full display in the game against B.C.

Who ordered the everything Begel?

Reggie Begelton didn’t take long at all to make an impact with just one week of practice after re-signing with the club last week during the bye.

The Stampeders’ first offensive play from scrimmage saw Begelton make a contested catch 38 yards down the field. Bo Levi Mitchell was certainly looking for Begelton on that play.

“I just said, ‘F it.’ I just want to give the guy the ball. (B.C. defensive back Marcus) Sayles is a hell of a player and has been in this league a long time. He was high, he was in man, and I didn’t think the safety got over there in time. I wanted to give Reggie the play,” said Mitchell.

There wasn’t only praise from the Stamps signal caller, though, suggesting Begelton may have left something out there on a sweep play that ended up as a 21-yard run on third-and-one.

“I’ll give him a little crap about getting caught on that wide receiver sweep, and losing the legs. He’s got to get back in CFL shape and not NFL shape.”

Begelton would leave the game in the fourth quarter with what head coach Dave Dickenson was calling a “neck injury,” but not before collecting 119 receiving yards and a touchdown.

If the injury to Begelton isn’t serious, this Stampeder offence just got infinitely more dangerous.

Hold on to the ball

But for a risky gamble which featured a turnover-on-downs following an inexplicable third-and-short-with-an-empty-backfield-shotgun-snap-to-the-backup-QB in the first quarter, the Stampeders held on to the ball for the rest of the night.

No interceptions and no fumbles.

Considering the Stampeders came into the game a minus-10 in turnover ratio, it was an encouraging sign.

On the flip side, the defence was able to force three turnovers, including one on downs late in the game to seal the victory, stopping Michael Reilly about a football shy of the first down deep in the red zone.

If the Stampeders are looking to take this momentum into the playoffs, turnover-free football is the best way to do that.

Sloppy tackling

As good as the Stampeders’ defence has been on this run, and they have been spectacular, this wasn’t their best effort.

All night long the Stampeders were whiffing on tackles, especially when B.C. running back James Butler had the ball. He finished the game with a combined 125 yards on 15 touches, often running the ball right up the middle for large gains.

“I think we came in with our heads a little bit high with what happened last time, we handled them pretty well,” Stampeders linebacker Darnell Sankey lamented after the game.

“That was one of my fears coming into the game. Once you beat a team pretty good, that team is going to come back hungry. Especially for them because if they win this game and the next, they are in (the playoffs), so they are playing last-game mentality.”

For his part, Sankey had twelve tackles, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery but still thought he left a few more plays out there.

Just another Ka’Deem Carey TD

Ka’Deem Carey now has seven rushing touchdowns on the season, three more than any other running back in the league.

The emergence of Carey during this 5-1 streak makes you wonder what may have been possible if the team committed to the run game in the first half of the season.

Since re-energizing the ground attack, Carey is routinely putting up performances that would have had him sail past the 1,000-yard mark in a normal season and he sits second behind William Stanbeck for total rushing yards with 869.

Every Stampeders win this year has seen at least eleven carries from Carey. On three occasions Carey had fewer than ten carries and the Stampeders lost all of those games.

The three other losses featured 11, 15, and 18 carries respectively. Those games also featured four, six, and three Stampeder turnovers — not the easiest path through which to carve out success.

The Stamps are at their best when Carey is involved, and as the weather gets colder, the Stampeders may need to lean even more heavily on him for success.

By the Grace of Cody

Cody Grace has been nothing short of phenomenal in his rookie season in the CFL.

The rookie punter from Australia has surrendered exactly zero rouges this season. The only other regular punter in the league to do so has been Richie Leone in Ottawa.

There has also been no punt returns for touchdowns (that counted) against the Stampeders this year as the cover teams have been equally good.

“He has exceeded my expectations,” said Dickenson. “Not only punting, and directional punting, excellent holder, a leader, a worker in the weight room. I think he’s been a great addition to our team.”

Dickenson also mentioned he may have had an inside scoop on Grace thanks to and old teammate from his days with the San Diego Chargers, fellow Australian punter Darren Bennett who coached Grace.

“I had a few conversations with (Bennett). Cody was our top guy in the (Global) draft and we got him.”

Costly Lions penalties save the day

Just a moment ago, I mentioned that the Stampeders have had no punt return touchdowns against this season that counted.

Lucky Whitehead, otherwise held reasonably in check on the day, went galloping past the goal line late in the fourth quarter yesterday only to have it called back with a pair of penalties on the play originally credited to Josh Woods.

As it turns out that would be changed with the second penalty landing on Mario Villamizar, but Woods was guilty of a hold that ended the attempt before it even began.

I still thought the announcers were harsh on the player making his CFL debut as the penalties were brought up on several different occasions as the game progressed, blaming them for making the Lions seem dispirited, and also suggesting Woods should have a tough night’s sleep for costing his team a playoff spot.

The Lions would go two-and-out on the ensuing drive and Calgary would use the field position to score the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown just three minutes later.

Looking ahead

By the time the weekend ends, and frankly barring some sort of miracle that sees the Elks down the Riders, the Stampeders will be locked into third place in the West Division standings heading to Regina to face the Riders in the postseason.

That makes for next week’s matchup to be an interesting one as on one side you will have a Bomber team with nothing to play for facing a Stampeders team looking to continue building while also recognizing the need to stay healthy for the playoff push.

“I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be watching the (Riders/Elks) game, to watch my brother’s team and see how he does,” Dickenson said. “But we are looking to play a good clean game, looking to improve, looking to put the best players on the field and we are looking to win.”

“(The result) will impact me, especially if guys are a bit beat up, but the expectations will be the same. Play a good clean game, and win.”

That game goes next Saturday, Nov. 20 and with a forecast of below zero temperatures and potentially nothing to play for, there are likely to be good seats available.

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