Stampeders succumb to Bombers in razor thin decision & seven other thoughts

Photo courtesy: Nik Kowalski/Stampeders.com

The Calgary Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers went toe to toe for the third time this season on Thursday night, throwing haymakers before the home team sealed a 31-29 victory.

This was the first season sweep of the Stampeders by the Bombers since 2002 and the first three-game season sweep since 1987. Barring an absolute disaster down the stretch, Winnipeg has all but eliminated Calgary from division title contention.

Here’s what I saw from the couch:

Maier Solid

Jake Maier was named the starter this week after replacing Bo Levi Mitchell last week in Toronto and he came out firing.

Maier would finish the game 23-of-28 for 294 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. At one point, the former backup would throw 15 straight completions in the first half before making an errant toss to start the third quarter.

Maier already owns the Stampeders’ record for consecutive completions at 17, a number he set against the Bombers last season.

While it should be noted that this is the first time Maier wasn’t over 300 yards passing as a starter in his career, he was every bit as good as his counterpart Zach Collaros — who also threw for 294 yards, going 19-of-26 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Collaros came out of the gate and led his team on a touchdown drive to start the game and Maier matched him almost immediately to tie it.

Given his performance, I believe that only an injury could prevent him from being the starter come Labour Day. He showed good pocket presence, had velocity on his throws and moved the chains against a very good defence.

This is now Maier’s job to lose.

Logan, Logan, and more Logan

Peyton Logan was Mr. Everything for the Stampeders in this game, as he racked up 51 yards rushing on six carries, 52 yards receiving (49 YAC) on three catches, and officially added another 87 yards returning kicks. I say officially because his first return went for 51 yards but was only credited as six yards due to a holding penalty. A later return was also discounted via penalty.

Nearly every time Logan got the ball positive things happened and his speed in the open field has to terrify defenders.

Last week, I asked the question: “Which two of the Stampeders’ three-headed rushing monster do you play against Winnipeg?” Clearly, Logan was the correct choice. He can’t be an afterthought defensively because the second you blink, he’s gone.

Laundry list of bad penalties

While six penalties for 62 yards in a game aren’t very many, several of them had a palpable impact and counted for more than the yards attributed to them on the box score.

First was the aforementioned holding call that took the Stampeders from across midfield back to their own nine-yard line. Calgary would get a touchdown on the drive — one might even argue that a longer drive helped boost the confidence of the offence — but it still took 54 yards of field position away from the team early. A second holding call on a return would also take 26 yards away, moving them from the 41 all the way back to their own 15-yard line.

A 17-yard pass interference call on Jonathan Moxey moved Winnipeg into the red zone and led to a Nic Demski touchdown two plays later, while intentional grounding only added distance to a Rene Paredes field goal but the penalty most will still be talking about came late in the game. Guard Ryan Sceviour was flagged for holding on a play where Ka’Deem Carey secured a first down near midfield and the team was marched back with just 2:35 left to play.

“I didn’t see it,” said Stamps coach Dave Dickenson after the game. “I just hope it was a real hold. There is actually holding on tons of plays, every play, in fact, you can probably find it. I was a little disappointed in the discrepancy of the penalty numbers because I know they do have some offensive linemen that like to hold inside.’

“One play is never a game, but that was a critical, critical call.”

Dickenson would elect to punt after the play rather than attempting a third-down gamble in need of 12 yards. The Stampeders would not get the ball back for the remainder of the game.

More zebra talk

Another moment that drew the ire of Stamps fans and coaches was an early whistle on a Zach Collaros fumble that was originally ruled an incomplete pass. Both teams would attempt to collect the ball in the chaos, with Cameron Judge eventually picking it up.

Upon a Dickenson instigated review, the CFL Command Centre ruled that Judge had not recovered the ball fast enough to be considered a turnover and so the play was dead at the spot of the fumble. Winnipeg would kick a field goal as a result.

On the other side of the ball, the Bombers were flagged for one of the worst roughing-the-passer calls I’ve seen since two weeks ago when Judge hit Nathan Rourke on the final drive of the Calgary-B.C. game. It was the only penalty yards assessed against the Bombers on the night, as an earlier holding call was declined.

Hat-trick for Henry

Malik Henry returned from injury this week and made his presence felt with seven catches on 10 targets for 122 yards and a trio of touchdowns.

Henry was leading the league in receiving yardage earlier in the season and was a large part of why Bo Levi Mitchell was successful. His quarterback had difficulty moving the ball without him in the lineup, as Reggie Begelton failed to get open and Kamar Jorden struggled to catch the ball.

Henry continues to lead the team in receiving yards, now at 639, and has the highest average yards per catch of any player with more than 17 receptions.

Having Henry on the field has proven to be a boon for a Stampeders’ offence that needs a viable third target. However, the first series of the second half saw Henry slow down on a deep ball that ended up being overthrown, before dropping a second-down pass that should have moved the sticks.

Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Begelton caught all six of his targets for 68 yards and Jorden reeled in his lone target for eight yards as Maier spread the ball to eight different receivers.

Zach brought the mountain to Muhammad

It was an up-and-down game for the Stamps’ Brad Muhammad, as he picked up two interceptions in the endzone but was also the cover man on two of Winnipeg’s passing touchdowns.

The first was a miracle catch by newcomer Greg McCrae, who had already drawn a pass interference flag and the second saw Muhammad lose track of Nic Demski.

Muhammad is part of a very inexperienced defensive backfield in Calgary right now and three of their top defenders are also on the six-game injured list.

Coming into this game, the six defensive starters for the Stamps had a total of 84 games of experience. 59 of those belonged to Jonathan Moxey (25) and Elie Bouka (34) combined. Other starters Kobe Williams, Darius Williams, and Natrell Jamerson had 12 games under their combined belts before kickoff.

That still means that no one on the Stamps’ secondary has played two full regular seasons’ worth of games, even though Bouka is in his fourth season.

While Tre Roberson is likely done for the year, the Stamps will be hoping to see rookie standout Titus Wall and safety Brandon Dozier return to the field for the stretch drive. They will need to see some of the other rookies start to figure out the Canadian game or it will be a short November.

A non-bye week break

The Stampeders’ next game is the Labour Day Classic on Monday, September 5, which gives the team 10 full days between games. That could prove to be an essential bit of rest considering the team plays in nine consecutive weeks between byes.

According to team personnel, the team will be given the next five days off, reassembling at McMahon Stadium next Wednesday to prepare for a back-to-back against the Elks, before a doubleheader with the Lions. That last pair of games could decide second place in the West Division.

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