Bo Levi Mitchell gets yanked as Stamps’ defence balls out & ten other thoughts on the win over the Argos

Photo courtesy: Calgary Stampeders

The Calgary Stampeders went into Toronto on Saturday with something to prove.

At 5-3, all of their losses have been at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions, the two teams ahead of them in the Western Division standings. A win against the Boatmen would right the ship, pun intended, and help Calgary keep pace as the third western playoff team, looking up at the Lions who may now be missing starting quarterback and MOP front runner Nathan Rourke.

It wasn’t a pretty win, as both defences were able to stymie their respective opponents, but Calgary held on for a 22-19 victory.

Here’s what I saw from the couch:

Mitchell pulled

The game couldn’t have started any better for Bo Levi Mitchell and it gave hope that he had put his recent struggles behind him.

Mitchell went two-for-two for 87 yards on the first series, including a beauty of a teardrop throw to a streaking Shawn Bane for 80 yards on the first play. A tackle for a loss on a running play meant the Stamps had to settle for a field goal but fans who had been nervous about Mitchell’s play over the last four weeks nevertheless let out a very long sigh of relief.

That relief didn’t last long, however, as Mitchell would throw two first-half interceptions and complete just seven of his next 14 pass attempts for 62 yards before halftime.

The Stampeders’ lone touchdown drive of the night featured just one pass beyond the line of scrimmage from Mitchell — an eight-yard completion to Luther Hakunavanhu — but was otherwise made up of several long runs and a quick flip pass to Bane, which is technically a pass because the ball went forward.

Mitchell was replaced by backup Jake Maier to start the third quarter.

Maier doesn’t miss much

After coming into the game after halftime, Maier would go 14-of-18 for 156 yards and one interception.

There was little that was flashy about Maier’s game and his interception did come in the endzone, as Luther Hakunavanhu fell just before the ball arrived. However, what stood out was his ability to keep the team on the field and give the defence a breather in between series.

Last week against B.C., Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson suggested it was an inability to stay on the field offensively that wore his defence out. Mitchell had just one series that lasted more than four plays on Saturday, including punts. Maier, on the other hand, had six drives and four of them went five or more plays.

While it may only be a few extra plays on an ultimately unsuccessful drive, that extra few minutes may have made a difference late because the defence had a little more gas left in the tank.

Maier’s most underrated play of the night was his run for a first down in the fourth quarter, getting eight yards on second-and-seven. The Stampeders’ system isn’t really designed for QB runs but it kept the drive alive and led to the game-winning points. Having a QB that is a threat to run occasionally does make a big difference in defensive responsibilities and opens more things up downfield.

With Winnipeg coming off a bye week to face Calgary next Thursday, this is the first time in Mitchell’s career where I seriously question if he will be starting a game without an injury or pre-playoff rest being the principal factor.

Bouka wakes ’em up

Elie Bouka spent the first portion of the season on the six-game injured list and was listed behind Nick Statz on the depth chart at safety last week, before having to move to cornerback due to injuries.

Against Toronto, Bouka was elevated to starter and rewarded the coaching staff with a second-half interception for a touchdown that brought the Stamps to life.

“It’s amazing how one play can change a game,” said defensive lineman Mike Rose when asked about the impact of the Bouka house call. “Before, if you look at the sideline, we was all sad and mad and then Bouka makes a play that changes the entire game and now the team starts to believe.”

“Belief is a hell of a thing, man! It can take you from nothing to something.”

Following the Bouka interception, the Argos didn’t cross their own 50-yard line and only generated two first downs.

Elsewhere in the secondary, rookie standout Titus Wall left the game before the half and didn’t return, while Natrell Jamerson made his CFL debut, defending a possible touchdown pass late in the second quarter to go with five tackles.

Under Pressure

A lot of credit for this win has to go to the defensive line, who got into the personal space of Mcleod Bethel-Thompson with regularity and put the Argos’ pivot into the turf on several occasions.

Bethel-Thompson was sacked five times on the evening, twice each by Mike Rose and Shawn Lemon, and once by DB Darius Williams. Folarin Orimolade was a constant nuisance as well, including providing the pressure that forced the Bouka interception that ended up going the other way for six.

Lemon is now tied with Hall of Famer Willie Pless for 19th all-time with 84 career sacks, getting there in just 127 games. He averages two sacks for every three games played and with the pair he collected in this game, is right back at that average. The 33-year-old has six sacks through nine games, the fourth highest total in the league this season.

However, Lemon continues to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the CFL sack parade as he “don’t get no respect” from many CFL fans and media, likely due to his having played for six teams in the league — some more than once.

Lemon was also responsible for the strip sack forced fumble that was recovered by Cameron Judge to snuff out the Argos’ chances with just 30 seconds remaining.

Another tough decision upcoming

When Ka’Deem Carey is healthy, he will once again be atop the depth chart for the Stampeders at running back. However, you have to think that the Stampeders’ brain trust will be seeing if they can keep both Dedrick Mills and Peyton Logan on the active roster as well.

All three running backs have the chance to be electric when they have the ball, as evidenced by a 29-yard scamper for a score from Logan and Mills taking a late-game pass through four tacklers for a first down. Logan being the principal punt returner may give him the edge but against a heavy-hitting Bomber defence, Mills may be the better choice as a punishing runner.

Either way, it seems like any combination of the three will end up looking like the right choice for the coaching staff.

Injuries impact being felt

The Stampeders have yet to have the same defensive secondary start and finish back-to-back games and there are five defensive backs currently on the six-game injured list, including all-star calibre players like Branden Dozier and Tre Roberson. Dionte Ruffin is on the one-game list.

While the secondary has had to scramble every week, the impact of injury at other positions was felt last night.

Bryce Bell has stepped in at centre and was exposed more than once with pressure coming right up the middle, where Sean McEwen typically keeps defenders at bay. Right tackle Julian Good-Jones has been replaced by 31-year-old rookie Hugh Thornton, who also allowed a little more pressure off the edge than we typically see.

Jameer Thurman’s loss can’t be overstated in the middle of the defence either, as the opposition’s run game has been more effective in his absence and passes over the middle are being completed more frequently.

Given the stretch of nine straight games without a break that the Stamps are in, any further bad news from the infirmary would be incredibly unwelcome — especially if Titus Wall were to miss any time at all.

Slippery when wet

You know the field conditions are bad when the TSN play-by-play team references the 2018 Grey Cup in Edmonton — a game that more closely resembled an NHL Winter Classic.

According to TSN’s Matthew Scianitti, the field was “heavily watered” before the contest and it made for a very unstable playing surface.

Several Stampeders reportedly changed their footwear at halftime to deal with the conditions and it seemed to be better in the second half, but players still found themselves unable to make sharp cuts on both sides of the football.

From the tinfoil hat file, there was no word if the stadium grounds crew warned both teams of the conditions before the game or just the home team.

Paredes moves into top 10 all time

I’ve not been shy about giving Rene Paredes his flowers in this space this season, as the veteran kicker has piled up the points through the first nine games.

Paredes has a league-leading 115 points this year and passed Winnipeg’s Trevor Kennard into sole possession of tenth place on the CFL’s all-time scorers list.

Not bad for someone that has contemplated retirement the last few offseasons!

Paredes was perfect on the night, collecting three field goals and a single convert, as the Stamps went for two on the game’s other offensive touchdown.

He now trails Terry Baker by 277 points for ninth place on the all-time list and each kicker above that would likely take a season or two of effort to surpass. Lui Passaglia sits atop the list with 3,991 points in 408 career games.

Tough task ahead

Next up is the fresh-off-a-bye-week Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who have already secured the season series with the Stampeders with two wins earlier this season.

Both games were close until the final minutes and, prior to the Stampeders’ game against B.C., were being talked about as game of the year candidates.

Calgary is facing a short week but look for this to still be the game of the week for Week 12.

Quick update!

With the win over Toronto, Calgary has moved to 6-3 on the season. That means they need just four more wins to pay off a friendly wager between myself and 3DownNation editor John Hodge.

Before the season, Hodge put the over-under for Stamps wins at 9.5 and I took the over.

Thanks to the miracle of autocorrect, the stakes are a donation to a charity of the winner’s choice and a beet to be delivered at the Grey Cup in Regina.

One way or another, if you are a produce provider in the Regina area, look for a bearded guy to be buying a single beet in late November! Hopefully, the fella is a brunette!

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Horsemen Radio Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.