There is a song that comes to mind when thinking about the 2023 Calgary Stampeders season. It’s Paula Abdul’s 1988 chart-topper “Opposites Attract.”
The chorus for the Grammy-winning duet with cartoon feline MC Skat Kat, which speaks to how two people can be in love despite their many differences, starts by saying to each other “I take two steps forward, I take two steps back!” That has been the refrain that has haunted this team from Week 1 all the way through this 25-23 loss to the Edmonton Elks in the Labour Day rematch.
It was just a few days ago that the Stampeders seemed to have finally come together, erasing a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Elks in Calgary on Labour Day. The defence held Tre Ford in check in the end, while the offence generated three touchdown drives to complete the comeback and win by four points.
Fast forward a few days, and the Stampeders find themselves once again in the loss column, having squandered a 16-point lead of their own, falling victim to a last-second field goal from Elks’ kicker Dean Faithfull.
For the fourth time this season, the Stampeders failed to win back-to-back games and as such find themselves much further out of the playoff picture than they were before the weekend began.
Here’s what I saw from field level at McMahon.
Wait, did he say McMahon?
Regardless of the on-field results, the Stampeders have faced challenges off the field this year with getting people into the seats at McMahon Stadium for home games. Mother Nature has also been unkind in these efforts with most gameday forecasts being of the type that discourages sitting outside for hours on end.
In an effort to show their season ticket holders more value, fans were allowed to watch the rematch from field level, were offered free popcorn and sold other substantially reduced snacks, and had buckets of free mini footballs for the taking, along with other giveaways.
Not one to pass up relatively unique experiences, I took my family down and enjoyed the experience of watching a game on the big screen while situated right on the goal line.
The few hundred in attendance may not have been happy with the final result, but there were smiles all around from the predominantly young audience, padded with multiple Scouts Canada troops. Putting a positive experience into the lives of young people is a way to help the league thrive and survive, and I applaud the effort from the Stamps in this regard.
Okay, enough stalling Ryan! Time to review the game…
On the collapse
The Stampeders played nearly perfect football through the first 45 minutes, allowing just a single busted run play for a touchdown on the Elks’ first drive. They generated turnovers, scored some offensive touchdowns, and held Tre Ford to less than 30 passing yards through three quarters.
During the fourth quarter, however, the Stampeders could not generate any offence, ending the game with three straight two-and-out drives, including one with 90 seconds left on the clock and the Elks having no timeouts. A first down in that situation and we are talking about a narrow escape rather than a season-defining loss.
“We felt good about what we were doing for most of the game, but it was just in the fourth quarter where it got away from us,” said Stamps’ QB Jake Maier after the game. “We were out of rhythm, out of sorts. Just not converting, not doing the things well enough late in the game to put a team away.”
Maier himself had what has been a winning day for him on a few occasions, passing for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions with a 21-of-29 completion rate. His numbers were lessened somewhat by the short fields he worked with following some of the turnovers generated by the defence.
Penalties prove costly
The Stampeders collected eight penalties for a whopping 156 total yards in the game including two pass interference calls that both resulted in scoring drives for the Elks.
The second one was challenged by Stampeders’ head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson as it was on the final drive of the game and the Elks moved from their own 35-yard line into Calgary territory as a result.
After the game, Dickenson spoke to Stamps’ longtime play-by-play man Mark Stephen on the QR770 postgame show and was asked what the officials told him following the challenge.
“Nothing. I have no comment on it, but sometimes, unfortunately, players don’t decide the games.”
The ball was badly underthrown, with no chance of being completed, falling several yards short of the intended receiver in a situation that has happened more than once this season. It may be worth noting that the league does not have a similar standard to the NFL on a “catchable ball” being required for pass interference to be called.
Dickenson now has just a two-of-ten success rate on challenges this season.
In the third quarter, the Stampeders also had a potential opportunity slip away as a result of a pair of unnecessary roughness penalties following a first-down scrum.
Both Marken Michel and Reggie Begelton were flagged for 15 yards, while there was just a single flag on the Elks during the brief melee.
This moved Calgary from a second-and-seven situation at the Elks’ 15-yard line back to a second-and-22 from the 30, effectively guaranteeing a field goal instead of a potential touchdown.
The defensive takeaway is that the defence got takeaways
Calgary came into the game tied for the second-fewest turnovers generated in the league so far this season and managed to make Edmonton turn the ball over four times, with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a turnover on downs late in the game, stopping a short yardage attempt to get the ball back with limited time on the clock.
There were several opportunities for more turnovers as well, with Cameron Judge tipping a pass high into the air only to bounce off a few players before falling incomplete, and Jonathan Moxey nearly picking off Ford in the fourth quarter.
The defence was also able to get to Ford on multiple occasions, laying some big hits, and causing discomfort to the QB in a way that didn’t happen the week before. Against a less mobile quarterback the sack total may have been much higher than the two they generated.
On a play that probably would’ve won you some huge money if you could have found an anytime touchdown prop on a certified sportsbook, fullback William Langlais recorded a rare receiving major.
Primarily used on special teams, it was just the third touchdown of Langlais’ eight-year career in the red and white. He is a great example of a player who has carved out a career as a team-first player, unfazed by a lack of personal statistics.
On this occasion, he picked his defender and rolled to the back of the endzone virtually ignored, making no mistake when the ball came his way to secure the three-yard score.
Langlais’ career high for receptions is six, and he is now halfway to matching that total on just his fourth target of the season.
What this means
Calgary may be all but eliminated from the playoff chase after this result, sitting four points behind Saskatchewan, who also have a game in hand. They are also looking up at the Ticats with one more win than them in the race for a crossover spot.
This means Calgary would have to win two more games than the Ticats, who also have a game in hand, or two more than Saskatchewan and win the season series by beating the Riders.
The Stamps will watch the noose potentially tighten on the necks of their slim playoff hopes on a bye week, before meeting Montreal at McMahon in what will be a must-win game on Saturday, September 23.