Saturday Night Live used to have a Weekend Update character called Stefan, played by Bill Hader and written by him and John Mulaney, who would describe the hottest night clubs in New York with an increasingly bizarre list of things to expect.
The West Division clash between the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions on Saturday felt exactly like one of those segments by the time the final whistle sounded and so — with apologies to Hader and Mulaney — the following recap is to be read in the voice of Stefan.
“This game had everything! Interceptions for touchdowns, third-down gamble touchdowns, kick returners seemingly tackled by the air around them, a rabbit, a man chasing said rabbit, a shirtless child running onto the field to hug one of the Lions right before a kickoff return for a touchdown, a massive fourth-quarter comeback, and a kickoff that was immediately punted back towards the kicking team in an effort to score a rouge on the last play of the game.”
You can add all that to a 488-yard performance from likely M.O.P. Nathan Rourke as he led his team to a 41-40 win in the highest-scoring game of the season so far.
Here is what I saw from my view in the press box:
I have no idea what happened to the Stampeders’ passing game but for the last four games, something has been off.
Through the first four games of the year, Mitchell averaged a 69 percent completion rate and 278 yards passing. In the next four games, we’ve seen a 52 percent rate and 187 yards on average. That includes a 206-yard performance against the Lions where Mitchell completed 18-of-32 passes and moved past Henry Burris to become the all-time team leader in passing yards.
There is a lot to be said about the opponents in this discussion — the first half of the season featured the Elks twice, a Hamilton team that was struggling to stop anyone in the fourth quarter, and the Alouettes, who kept Mitchell to his lowest total of the bunch at 199 yards.
Mitchell’s accuracy is slightly off, even on some short throws. Typically sure-handed receivers are dropping balls, routes seem to be miscommunicated in a way that hasn’t happened in previous years, and other receivers are struggling to get open or have had their YAC production fall off a cliff.
The Stampeders aren’t getting enough from their passing game right now and it needs to turn around quickly to keep pace in the West Division.
Why not Mills?
After going for 100 yards last week on the ground, Stampeders’ head coach and offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson chose not to utilize running back Dedrick Mills as often this week. The contact-seeking steamroller was given just seven carries, which he turned into 55 yards.
Mills is an absolute load to tackle and the Stamps inexplicably moved away from him with the lead.
Dickenson spoke about the flow of the contest and how it kept the Stampeders from establishing the run game.
“We didn’t get into a ton of rhythm. We scored on defense, we scored on special teams, which is outstanding, but I think it also just wore our defence down. I think they were on the field way too much,” he said.
“We didn’t really establish an identity, we didn’t have a running game that we’ve normally had. So we need to go back to the drawing board and make sure we are better.”
Given what Mills has done, I was shocked to see him not get the ball late with the game on the line and time winding down. Instead, the Stampeders decided to pass almost exclusively on the drive.
I recognize that goes against the tendency, as the Lions were attempting to stack the box, but Mills has shown he can evade contact and go north-south in a hurry.
Mills did have a fourth-quarter fumble that may have also contributed to the play-calling down the stretch.
Paredes going long
Rene Paredes was asked to kick the ball a lot in this game with five field goal attempts.
He was successful on four of five, missing from 51 yards out late in the first half but also made two kicks from beyond the 50-yard line — one of which matched his career-best 53 yards.
Paredes is kicking from further than ever this season, already having made five field goals from outside the 50.
His career-high coming into this season was four long bombs in a season set in 2018 but in seven of the Concordia grad’s eleven CFL seasons, he hit just one or fewer.
That didn’t mean that Dickenson considered sending Paredes out for what would have been a 55-yard try late in the fourth, instead utilizing Cody Grace to try and bury the Lions deep. Grace and the cover team did what they were supposed to do, hemming the Lions at the five-yard line.
“I was good with [the decision]. I get nervous with anything 50-plus, especially with the returner back there. I didn’t even really think about it at that time. We had in our mind 51 or 52 yards maxed out [distance]. We did hit one because the wind shifted,” the coach explained.
“I felt like we had a good plan. We decided to basically, what we call, ‘kick it to the pylon’ and if it gets a single then, yeah, they have an easier field goal chance. I feel like it was a good play, but we just didn’t stop them.”
Philpot shines before injury
The Calgary Stampeders had high hopes for Jalen Philpot when they grabbed half of the Calgary Dinos’ dynamic twin duo in this year’s entry draft.
While Philpot began the year on the injured list, he showed what he was capable of in this game before taking a helmet-to-helmet collision and leaving before halftime.
Philpot took a kick return back 77 yards before being tackled by the turf monster with nothing but the end zone in front of him and a pack of blockers nearby. He would finish with 141 total return yards on just three kicks.
He also collected his first receiving touchdown on a night where he caught all three passes sent his way for 54 yards.
While the second quarter helmet-to-helmet hit from Kevin Francis didn’t look intentional by any means, Philpot did not return to the game.
Given what else is happening in the Stamps’ receiving corps, they have to be hoping Philpot has a quick recovery.
Yes, it’s a cheap pun that I’ve likely used before but if I dipped into Marvel’s Wolverine lore, I’d probably lose some of you!
Peyton Logan had an interesting night as a returner. He muffed the first punt, which B.C. recovered to produce an early field goal. He bobbled another kick return later where he was lucky not to duplicate that result.
Then, he blew past absolutely everyone on his way to a 99-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Now, a kick return touchdown is a rare enough occurrence in a CFL game but I saw something even weirder right before the play when a shirtless child — who had to be less than 10 years old — ran onto the field and proceeded to hug a Lions’ defender.
There was little further information available at press time as to any of the circumstances surrounding this, but the kid very quickly made their way off the field after giving the hug.
The game also featured an appearance by the CFL Rabbit, who was subsequently chased by someone from the Stampeders’ sidelines and also delayed the game.
Early defensive success
You can’t have a huge comeback unless you fall behind by a significant margin and the Stampeders were able to build their lead over the Lions thanks to a pair of players collecting career firsts.
Nick Statz and Folarin Orimolade both picked off Rourke in the first half, with the defensive lineman taking his to the end zone for a touchdown.
It represented the first interception for both players, and the first touchdown of Orimolade’s career as well.
While the shine wore off the individual accomplishments given the result, it’s always great to see a defensive lineman rumble one back.
Only in the CFL
The final play of the game featured one of those special plays that make the CFL the best version of football on the planet.
After going ahead by a single point with two seconds left on the clock, the Lions were forced to kick the ball away with a one-point lead.
A squib kick followed and the Stampeders player who picked it up proceeded to immediately punt the ball downfield, attempting to get the ball into the Lions’ end zone for a rouge.
Eventually the punt was recovered by the Lions at the 10-yard line and the game was over.
Stamps’ special teams coach Mark Kilam stopped briefly in the parking lot to chat after the game and said the team has been practicing that particular play for at least three years, but never had a chance to call it in a game before.
His only regret, other than the result, was that the ball didn’t end up in the hands of Stamps punter Cody Grace who presented the best chance of that play being successful.
Going to get harder before it gets easier
All of a sudden, the Stamps find themselves losers in three of the last four and are facing a stretch of six games where they play the Lions, Elks and Argos each twice ahead of their final bye week of the season with one game against Winnipeg stuck in the middle.
Should the Stamps want to have a shot at staying in the West Division playoff picture, they will have to win all their games against teams they haven’t lost to already while picking up a win or two against Winnipeg and the Lions.
The road forward has become much tougher given this recent stretch and the team must embrace the pressure of keeping pace. Otherwise, they might find themselves facing down a crossover berth as the Riders are now just a half-game back at 5-4.