The Calgary Stampeders had everything fall their way heading into their Week 16 game against the Montreal Alouettes. Both the Elks, who are a game behind them, and the Riders, who are two games ahead, lost this weekend, laying the Stampeders’ playoff destiny right in the hands of the Red and White.
Looking to continue a playoff streak that dates back to before the invention of the iPhone –the longest active streak in North American professional sports by a substantial margin — the Stampeders needed to recapture some of that post-bye-week magic that they have become known for during this run.
Instead, it looks like the streak will, with apologies to T.S. Eliot, “end not with a bang but a whimper”, as the Stamps looked uninspired during a 28-11 loss in front of 22,321 fans at McMahon Stadium.
The loss drops Calgary to 4-10 on the season, guaranteeing their first losing season since 2007 and raising the spectre of the first playoff-free season since 2004.
Here’s what I saw from the press box.
Fragility on display
The Stampeders started well out of the gate, orchestrating a nine-play drive to move the ball deep into Montreal territory until Jake Maier threw his first interception of the game to Shawn Lemon.
People in the stands, sidelines and press box were baffled by the lack of an offside flag on the play as the Alouettes had clearly jumped before the snap. Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier also expressed some confusion after the game.
“I thought we had some decent momentum early. Shawn Lemon made a great play, but I thought we had offsides and it was a bit of a free play. If (Lemon)’s not there, I think Tre Dukes catches the ball and scores a touchdown. That was a momentum killer there.”
It is a situation that has plagued this team all season. The unlikely play. The play that should have gone their way but didn’t. The unlucky bounce. However you want to describe it, once it happens, this team seems to get rattled and takes forever to recover.
When looking back at this Stampeders team following the season, there will be near weekly occurrences to point to where the confidence was knocked from their grasp. They’ve lacked the gumption to ever snatch it back.
Another play that caused heads scratching all around occurred on the Stampeders’ second drive when punter Cody Grace was hit by not one, not two, but three separate Alouettes after kicking the ball. The play was determined to be just a 10-yard contacting the kicker penalty and not a roughing the kicker foul, which would have resulted in an automatic first down.
The replays seemed to show that Grace was struck during the follow-through of his kick, but after a long conversation, the Stampeders re-punted the ball. It was at this time that I learned that if more than one player hits your punter while in the air, only the first one gets a penalty. The second and third players don’t count.
Grace was visibly hot with the officials following the decision, and I think he had a right to be.
The Stampeders’ lone touchdown drive of the game had an unusual cadence to it, as the Stampeders lost yards on four of the five first downs on the drive, then converted the second and long in every situation on their way to the endzone.
Only fullback William Langlais was able to provide positive yardage on a first down, taking a pass to the three-yard line to set up the eventual score by Reggie Begelton.
It isn’t often that a CFL team can move backwards four times in nine plays and still find the endzone.
Feast or famine
Ka’Deem Carey had a night of all-or-nothing touches as well, running the ball ten times for 70 yards. Five of his carries went for 12 yards or more, while three went for negative yardage.
Dederick Mills went largely unused until the final drive of the game, when the Stampeders were running out the clock and picked up 35 yards on three carries.
I am continually surprised by how infrequently this team runs considering what the running backs do with the ball when they get it in their hands. The team’s best win of the season came against the Argos and featured the highest run/pass ratio of the year, with Mills recording a CFL season-high 27 carries.
While the results were less consistent in this case, Carey was continually gaining more than first down yardage while running the ball.
Maier makes two mistakes
Jake Maier looked effective moving the ball in the passing game, ending the day 29-of-37 for 271 yards and a touchdown to go with a pair of interceptions.
The interceptions proved costly from a momentum standpoint, as the first drive was snuffed out by Shawn Lemon and the second stole the positive juju garnered by a Nick Statz interception that set Calgary up on the Montreal 50-yard line to start the second half.
The drive was an opportunity to grab the lead and put a pedestrian first half behind them, but when the ball landed in the arms of Marc-Antoine Dequoy, the wind seemed to be knocked out of the Stampeders’ sails.
The play was on a third-and-goal from the four-yard line and while I applaud the team’s decision to go for it, the play calling in the situation seemed cautious. Dequoy may have used the goalpost to hide behind before stepping into the path of the pass so perfectly that he looked like the intended target.
With the yardage gained in today’s game, Maier moved up to 13th place on the Stampeders all-time list, passing Kevin Glenn, Rick Johnson, and Stampeders’ president John Hufnagel in the process. Assuming Maier remains in Calgary as the starting quarterback through next season, he will pass current Stamps’ GM and head coach Dave Dickenson for 10th on the list.
Reggie Begelton is back over 1,000 yards receiving and given the team has four games remaining, he could threaten his career high of 1,444 yards, reached in 2019.
Begelton was everywhere for the Stampeders in this game, making 13 catches on 14 targets for 109 yards, 59 of which were after the catch.
Last season, Begelton was held under 1,000 yards and the team spoke about how underutilized they felt he had been, a mindset that has clearly changed this year.
Begelton made a deep catch with Calgary threatening late in the game and looking to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, but fumbled instead. While the loss certainly should not be pointed in his direction, it was another in a series of plays that led to defeat on the day.
Awe, not again!
Middle linebacker Micah Awe was penalized 25 yards for spearing in the second quarter and will likely receive his fourth fine from the league this season.
Awe leads the league in defensive tackles, adding five more in this game to now sit at 96 total. Assuming he gets four more, he will become just the fourth Stampeder in club history to reach the 100 tackle mark, most recently accomplished by Alex Singleton.
It would be easier to celebrate this accomplishment if so many of the hits weren’t of the greasier variety.
Inside the press box, it was mused that the league may fire a suspension his way for the accumulation of fines, if not for the hit itself.
The public doesn’t care for the way they are being addressed
It came as a shock earlier this season when long-time PA announcer Dan Carson passed away far too young at the age of 60. The voice of McMahon for 31 years, Carson was an abject professional and his work was to be admired.
Anytime a legend is replaced in this type of capacity, growing pains are to be expected. That said, the Stampeders’ current man in the chair is causing long-time fans to complain more about his work online than about the product on the field, which is saying something considering this is shaping up to be the worst team in literal decades.
Whether it is mispronouncing the names of Stampeders’ players or referring to Reggie Begelton as both Jake Maier’s “homeboy” and “BFF” after catches are made, the outcry for a new person to take the seat is growing louder every week.
The Stampeders are already struggling to fill the stands at McMahon, and having long-term season ticket holders loudly voicing their displeasure at this new style of public address can’t be what the team wants people talking about.
I’d heard internally that the job wouldn’t be filled permanently until next season but in the meantime, damage is being done. One fan commented that “at home, at least I can mute (Glen Suitor).”
With three weeks before the next home game, it may be worth the team looking to see if they can find someone else to audition.
Some Pink, no Power
This game was the annual Pink Power game in support of research regarding women’s cancers.
The Stampeders first began wearing pink for the cause in 2008, and the initiative was eventually adopted by all other CFL teams. The NFL began wearing pink in October of 2009, before phasing into a more generic “any colour representative of all various cancers” approach in 2016.
I was disappointed in how many players were not more visibly attired in the specialty pink tape provided, and it speaks to what has seemed to be a leadership void following the departure of Jameer Thurman and Bo Levi Mitchell among others this past offseason.
I’m not saying that those two players would have ensured more players were wearing the pink in a way that was easily visible from a distance, but their voices seem to not have been obviously replaced from a cultural standpoint and that could have been why the pink only was visible on about half the squad.
Not dead yet
While the Stampeders’ season is not officially dead, they will be “relying on the kindness of strangers” to keep those faint hopes alive.
With Saskatchewan still on the docket, the team can win that game and gain a season series tiebreaker, but would still need to win one more down the stretch than the team from the rectangle to get into the dance.