It will be a familiar foe that greets the Calgary Stampeders this Thursday night, as the team exits its bye week facing the very same opponent they vanquished two weeks ago.
The Stamps topped their storied provincial rivals, the Edmonton Elks, by a score of 30-23 in that matchup but things are different this time around. Namely, the once hapless team from the now-ironically named City of Champions has a win under its belt, thanks in part to an exciting new face at quarterback.
While the Stampeders pushed past a team led by Nick Arbuckle in Week 3, the keys to Edmonton’s offence have since been passed to Canadian rookie Tre Ford. The reigning Hec Crighton Trophy winner’s historic debut made him the first Canadian university quarterback to start and win a regular-season CFL game since 1985.
The Stampeders have certainly taken notice and expect a fired-up Elks team for Ford’s first Battle of Alberta as the starter.
“I think sometimes you make a switch and build some confidence in guys like, ‘Hey, he’s 1-0, he’s a winner.’ That’s what they’re gonna see and kind of feed off of,” Stampeders’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell told Stamps TV this week. “We’ve just got to try to temper that, make sure we can get up on him and then once we get up on him, not letting them feel like they had that fuel coming in.”
Ford hardly lit the world on fire in his debut, going 15-of-26 through the air for 159 yards, a touchdown and an interception. However, he added an element of escapability previously absent from the Edmonton offence, taking off for 61 yards on six carries.
That’s only a small taste of what the dynamic dual-threat athlete is capable of, as Stampeders’ head coach Dave Dickenson is all too aware of from the team’s pre-draft scouting report.
“We’re familiar with him because we worked hard on the draft process. I think he’s young but he’s confident. You can tell he enjoys the game and we’ve just got to make sure we’re tight on our details,” Dickenson told the Calgary media earlier this week.
“He’ll make his plays, he can throw, he can run and we’ll challenge him. You always question their decision-making as well, young quarterbacks, you want to give them multiple looks. That’s what we’re gonna try to do.”
Rookie quarterbacks in starting roles are few and far between in the CFL for good reason and there is virtually no precedent for one direct from the U Sports ranks. That means a matchup with Ford should heavily favour the Calgary defence but those on that side of the ball are trying not to get ahead of themselves.
“You’d like to believe that but we’ve watched the film and we know he can make plays when they’re extended,” defensive back Raheem Wilson said of their perceived advantage this week. “I don’t think we approach it any different than whoever was back there. We know his talent will be different than Arbuckle’s was. We do expect to make plays as always, but we’re just gonna take it one play at a time.”
In the past, that strategy has been a successful one for the Stamps. They are currently undefeated in their last seven matchups with rookie signal-callers, but Ford is a different sort of challenge.
“You can’t call him a rookie anymore, he’s played a game. If he hadn’t played a game, then say rookie,” defensive tackle Derek Wiggan stressed. “It’s maybe not a whole bunch of games but he’s experienced it, experienced a win, and those are dangerous guys because they want to keep winning.”
While that may not show a tremendous amount of respect for dictionary definitions by the Stamps’ Canadian big man, it demonstrates an abundance of wariness when it comes to Ford.
The 24-year-old from Niagara Falls may have surprised the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in his debut but Calgary won’t be caught flat-footed.