Stampeders steamroll Riders for 12th win of the season and eight other thoughts

Photo courtesy: CFL

For most of the people in attendance at McMahon Stadium, the game between the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders was an opportunity to see Bo Levi Mitchell one last time at home wearing a Stampeders uniform.

However, the Stampeders used this glorified scrimmage, which couldn’t change the fate of either team, to work out the kinks and tweak what they felt they needed to get ready for the playoff. In the process, they thumped the Riders 36-10.

Here’s what I saw from the pressbox:

Mitchell gets his flowers

Bo Levi Mitchell is already a CFL great and an instant first-ballot Hall of Famer. No matter where Mitchell ends up playing next season, his time as a Stampeder is legendary.

The most wins, pass completions, highest winning percentage, and other records belonging to Mitchell span a Calgary career that saw four West Division Final wins to go along with a pair of Grey Cup championships and two Most Outstanding Player awards.

Everything Mitchell could have been expected to do in his career to this point, he did and more.

The fans got a chance to say a proper goodbye as he came in for a series in the fourth quarter, before kneeling in victory formation to end the game.

Mitchell is a legend and deserved the ovation he received.

Run Tommy Run!

Third-string quarterback Tommy Stevens was incredible in this game, as he nearly chased down a CFL record for quarterback rushing yards in a game and set a franchise record in the process.

Stevens would gather up 163 yards on just four carries, including an 85-yard touchdown run — the longest in the league this season — which came on a third-and-short from the Stampeders’ 25-yard line.

“Nobody in this locker room is surprised at all,” said Mitchell after the game. “I think we’ve all be telling (head coach Dave Dickenson) and all these guys, ‘Hey, find a way to get this guy the ball, because he’s special man, he’s fun to watch.'”

Mitchell knew Stevens had the opportunity for a big play when the call went in.

“When they called crest, you make one guy miss and he’s got the speed to take it all the way. That and the long run around the side, we knew it was him versus (Riders’ linebacker and former Stampeder Darnell Sankey), and I’m taking (Stevens) every time in that race. No offense to Sankey, but Tommy’s faster than you.”

Stevens may have been able to take a second one to the house in the second half when he broke free for a 71-yard scamper before getting caught at the Saskatchewan 36-yard line.

“I was a little tired, not going to lie,” Stevens admitted. “I was tired. My legs were a little heavy.”

That drive would end with Stevens’ first career touchdown pass, a nine-yard catch and run collected by Jalen Philpot.

Stevens said he even started to feel a little wobbly-legged on the first long scamper.

“In my mind, I was like ‘I just don’t want to fall over’ because it looked like I was just so far away from the endzone,” he explained. “I just kept looking back so I wouldn’t have to look at the endzone. I was surprised that I continued to pull away. Good stride length.”

As a six-foot-five quarterback, his stride length is likely to rival anyone in any backfield in the league.

To add a little more unbelievability to Stevens’ night, he also had a carry go for a one-yard loss in short yardage deep in Saskatchewan territory, the first such turnover of the Stampeders’ season.

No one really had any thoughts on that play at the end of the game and, with what Stevens did the other times he carried the rock, why would they?

Rushing to the endzone

Stevens wasn’t the only one to have a day rushing the football, as running back Dedrick Mills chipped in with 125 yards on 14 carries including a touchdown.

Mills would have led the CFL in rushing if he wasn’t behind the CFL’s rushing champion Ka’Deem Carey. He is a load to tackle, and has speed in the open field.

The rookie finishes the year with 459 yards in just six games, good enough for the 12th most rushing yards in the league this season. That is nearly a 1,400-yard pace for the season but with Carey and return man Peyton Logan also in the backfield, Mills has spent most of his time off the active roster.

Following the game, Postmedia’s Danny Austin asked Dickenson if there was a way to see all three of Mills, Carey, and Logan on the field at the same time.

“There’s a way…” Dickenson responded, “There’s a way, but then another good football player won’t be there. Certainly, let’s see where we are at receiver too. Let’s see if Malik can play or not, because he can do some great things in the return game.”

That might be something to watch as the playoff depth chart gets released.

Grace fields his own punt

There was a type of play that I’ve never witnessed in person that occurred in this game, as punter Cody Grace recovered his own punt on the Saskatchewan 15-yard line. It looked like he dislocated his finger on the play to boot, before going back to the sideline and having the joint put back into place.

The ball bounced inside the Saskatchewan five before rolling back to the 15-yard line, where Grace would dive on it.

“It was a good punt too,” Dickenson said after the game.

“It was those Aussies, which has that backspin on it, and that’s what you coach. You say ‘Hey, we’ve been talking about that anyway. If you hit one of those, just try and get yourself into position and see what happens.'”

There was more credit to go around on the play as well.

“I thought it was a good job of our guys to just not touch the ball,” Dickenson added. “I felt like we went over that scenario and for them to execute it in a live game and have Cody get there was impressive. We needed that as that was kind of the kickstart, as we were just treading water there.”

The recovered punt would lead to the game’s first touchdown, a 17-yard strike from Jake Maier to Reggie Begelton to put the Stamps on the board.

Maier looks fine in a way that Fine did not

Jake Maier wasn’t going to play a lot of this game and he left at the end of the first half, having thrown for 108 yards on 13-of-16 attempts and a touchdown.

Not exactly a light-the-world-on-fire performance, but one that utilized the run and short pass game to near perfection on the way to a 23-3 halftime lead.

The Stampeders’ offence has become far more methodical under Maier, but it also avoids mistakes and doesn’t take much in the way of chances that can result in turnovers.

His Regina counterpoint Mason Fine was largely ineffective as he managed to throw for 168 yards on 21-of-32 attempts.

The defence coming even further into focus

This game saw the return of Titus Wall whose name was in the rookie-of-the-year conversation before he was injured — and before Dalton Schoen had 16 touchdowns for Winnipeg.

This moved Kobe Williams back to halfback and we also saw Natrell Jamerson draw into the lineup as well.

The Stampeders have had so many injuries in the secondary this season that they are now benefitting from having a wide array of players with experience.

I expect Stampeders’ defensive coordinator Brent Monson to be wringing his hands together in anticipation of having his secondary be as healthy as it has been since Week 2.

The only long-term injury that remains is Tre Roberson, who was lost for the season.

The first time the Stampeders faced Nathan Rourke of the B.C. Lions, they had three first-half interceptions before Rourke worked his magic and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a very late comeback.

Sack attack just keeps coming

The Stampeders led the CFL in sacks this season and collected another six against the Riders, including two on Saskatchewan’s final series that left them with a third-and-27.

On the season, the Riders allowed 77 sacks or just over four per game.

On the flip side, the Stampeders allowed two in this game to bring their total to 17 total for the year, less than one per contest.

The combination of the two trenches for Calgary added up to 56 sacks gathered versus 17 allowed for a +41 differential.

The Riders were -36 in the same category, which goes a long way toward telling you why the Stampeders are headed to the playoffs and the Riders are cleaning out their lockers for the year.

Bring on the playoffs!

Next up for the Stampeders is the West Division Semi-Final in Vancouver on Sunday, where the Stampeders will face Nathan Rourke and the B.C. Lions for the right to try and knock off the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Why the best three teams in the league have to battle to get to the championship while teams four through six fight it out on the other side of the bracket is for an off-season column. Regardless, the must-watch season is now upon us!

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