After dropping the season opener a week ago to the B.C. Lions, the Calgary Stampeders went into Ottawa to play a team that isn’t projected to be in the same tier as the Red and White. While the game wasn’t a pretty affair from either team, the Stampeders did come away with a much-needed early season win, beating the Redblacks 26-15.
Here are my takeaways from another episode of Thursday night football.
When Reggie Begelton was lighting up the league in 2019 before heading to the NFL, he was constantly downfield using his large frame to high-point the ball and made life miserable for opposing defences.
In 2022, the team largely used him on shorter routes and screens, where he was catching the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage with middling success.
In Ottawa, Reggie was an everything Begelton for the Stamps again, leading the team in targets with 12. He collected eight receptions for 106 yards — his best yardage total since Labour Day in 2019 — and was consistently targeted beyond the first down marker.
Begelton did have a massive catch-and-run towards the end of the game to move the ball from the shadow of the Stampeders’ goalpost to midfield and fell just shy of the goal line later on the same drive, which eventually ended with a Rene Paredes field goal.
If the Stampeders’ new “offence by committee” approach sees more of Begelton downfield, I’m all for it.
Give it Awe, now
Micah Awe continued his strong start to the season, recording five tackles following a 12-tackle performance last week. He also forced a short-yardage fumble that was recovered for a touchdown and collected an interception.
Awe’s pick came just one play after the Stampeders had thrown an interception of their own and snatched back any momentum that the Redblacks were trying to capitalize on. Full credit for this one as well, given that Awe tracked Redblacks quarterback Nick Arbuckle’s eyes to make the play, instead of profiting from a tip drill.
Awe is much travelled throughout his time in the CFL, having completed six legs of the Kevin Glenn Challenge, but seems to have found a home in the middle of the Stampeders’ defence. Given that spot was one of the biggest questions facing the team following the departure of Jameer Thurman, it proves how defensive coordinator Brent Monson’s scheme can elevate a talented player.
Running for Maier
Jake Maier had a serviceable day at quarterback and benefitted from some gaudy numbers in the yards-after-catch category, posting a final stat line of 22-of-33 passing for 272 yards with a rushing touchdown to boot.
The yardage totals would have been higher but for a relatively weak offensive pass interference call that negated a 50+ yard touchdown pass to Malik Henry. On replay, it didn’t look as obvious as it may have seemed, but the Stampeders decided not to utilize their challenge.
Credit to the TSN team, who noted that Maier taking the QB sneak for a TD likely caught the Redblacks’ defence off guard, as that role is typically reserved for Tommy Stevens. Maier had more points scored rushing than yards on the day, but made the most of it when he was counted upon.
For his part, Maier has happy with the team’s performance but knows there is still work to do.
“We’re getting better. It’s a long season, as long as we are taking steps in the right direction, we’re going to be fine.”
Maier did offer his offensive line some praise, saying that as the game went on he had the time he needed.
“I was really impressed with our ability to make winning plays in the second half,” Maier told reporters. “I thought the pocket, in the second half, was phenomenal.”
Maier did have an interception in the game, on a pass intended for Reggie Begelton, but the throw was just a touch high which sent it bouncing off the receiver’s fingertips into the waiting arms of a defender.
“When it mattered most, (Maier) hung in there and executed it perfectly,” Stampeders’ head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said after the game. “He made some big calls that really got us out of the hole. We needed to flip the field and he did.”
Defence strong again
The Stampeders’ defence allowed touchdowns on the first two Lions drives last week and the Redblacks started the game by taking the ball the length of the field in a clock-chewing effort. Once the ball got into the red zone, however, the Stampeders changed their fortunes from a week ago and generated a turnover on downs by forcing three Arbuckle incompletions.
The defence would not surrender an offensive touchdown in this contest and Arbuckle looked ineffective enough that he was replaced with two minutes to go in the first half, finishing the day with 93 yards on 12-of-21 passing with an interception. Replacement QB Tyrie Adams didn’t fare much better, as he also threw an interception as part of a 9-of-16 passing effort for 113 yards.
Watch out for the Bull Dozier
Brandon Dozier had a heck of a second quarter as he hammered Redblacks’ returner, DeVonte Dedmon, then picked up a fumble a few plays later and took it back to the house for a touchdown.
Dozier also earned early candidacy for touchdown celebration of the year, as he went to the “Wood Cookie” station and mimicked cutting himself a trophy, as the Lumberjacks in attendance waved their fingers in his face. A moment like that is unlikely to endear himself to the Redblacks faithful, but Dozier’s celly will be replayed many, many times in the next few years.
Dozier has been a quiet contributor to the Stampeders’ defence since moving to safety from SAM linebacker with the emergence of Titus Wall, but no one can question his effectiveness in the role.
Regular readers of this space are well aware of how I gush over the special teams units in Calgary and question why Mark Kilam hasn’t started cashing head coach cheques somewhere in this league.
However, the special teams unit allowed a return touchdown against the Redblacks and nearly had another one go to the house before Rene Paredes grabbed the returner’s facemask and hauled him to the ground. One of Calgary’s newest firefighters, Paredes sure got hot under the collar during the play and eventually took a punch in the ensuing scrum.
A rarity much like Paredes missing a pair of field goals last week, I’m not sure we see another returner make a house call this season against this solid cover team.
CFL+ is a decent way to watch a game
I’m in Arizona this week and so was treated to the CFL’s completely free U.S. streaming platform, CFL+. With the same sign-in credentials offered to fans for CFL Preseason Live, the entry to the game was easy and even on non-premium hotel wifi, I was rarely buffered out of the game.
I get that TSN and its broadcasting contract prop up the league financially, but it sure was nice to grab my iPad and watch a game without commercials. Purchasing a VPN service to enjoy games this way all the time may be a bit excessive, but I won’t say I didn’t entertain the idea.
Now if only the league could get the people running CFL+ to compile some game stats…
Pillowy soft schedule continues
Next up for the Stampeders is the heated rivalry between brothers Dave and Craig Dickenson, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders get set to visit Calgary.
The Riders may have improved defensively since last season, but the offence did not look very effective against Edmonton in Week 1 and Trevor Harris is nursing a hip injury.
Calgary’s early schedule has the Bombers as the best challenge in a stretch that includes them, Saskatchewan twice, Ottawa again, and Montreal. If Calgary is looking to contend for an 18th straight playoff berth, they will need to beat the teams considered to be beneath them. This game was a good start.