Stampeders tame toothless Lions: six thoughts on Calgary’s preseason victory

Photo courtesy: Steven Chang/B.C. Lions
The 2024 campaign officially kicked off for the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday as they hosted the B.C. Lions at McMahon Stadium for their first preseason test of the new year.
The Lions brought some Vancouver weather with them as lightning warnings pushed back the start of the game by half an hour but much like the roster the Lions put on the field, there was little substance to the threat. Soon the sun broke through and the afternoon turned into a great day to watch some football.
The Stampeders played their starters against a mostly backup lineup from the Lions and it showed, with the Red and White dominating the visitors from out West 30-6.
Here’s what I saw on the CFL+ streaming service from a Lethbridge hotel room:
Maier methodical
 
In 2023, Jake Maier rarely threw the ball downfield. The then-newly-anointed Stampeders starter spent the season firing the ball short of the sticks and counting on his receivers to get over the line for a first down.
It may only have been against B.C.’s backups but Maier did get the ball a little deeper downfield in this one, ending the day with 98 yards on seven-of-12 passing and a touchdown. Of his 12 throws in this game, only three were for less than first down yardage and all those were completed.
More notable were his deep attempts, which made up four of his throws, including the 35-yard touchdown to Marken Michel. The receiver was originally marked down by contact by the officials at the five-yard line but a shrewd challenge by Stampeders’ head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson showed that he was never touched.
Maier would play most of the first half and while some may say the Lions didn’t bring their best secondary, a team can only play whom their opponents put on the field. You can’t downplay the Stampeders’ top pivot’s performance.
Other QBs have their moments — good and bad
 
Once Maier came out of the game late in the first half, Matthew Shiltz stepped in under center and had himself a workmanlike performance. A bevy of shorter passes saw him collect 79 yards on 11-of-15 passing with no touchdowns or interceptions. Shiltz did show why the Stampeders brought him into camp though, as he took off in the third quarter for a 25-yard scramble that kept a drive alive and led to a touchdown.
Logan Bonner zipped a great ball down within a whisker of the goal line for another touchdown drive, ending his day two-of-two for 42 yards. Kyle Vantrease would go four-of-six for 46 yards and looked good doing so in garbage time with real zip on his passes.
Last year’s backup Tommy Stevens never threw the ball and was a part of a miscommunication in the second quarter that led to a goal-line turnover. Either he or the fullback, Lucas Robertson, went the wrong way on third-and-short and Stevens was eventually tackled behind the line.
Running backs: the new factory item?
 
For many years, the Stampeders were known as the quarterback factory. Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Dave Dickenson, Henry Burris, and Bo Levi Mitchell all came through Calgary in succession, leading to a mystique around the Calgary pivot position — and yes, I am intentionally ignoring the Kevin Feterik years.
Now, it seems like running backs are the next big thing. Calgary has moved through Jon Cornish, Jerome Messam, and Ka’Deem Carey to get to the next-generation tandem of Dedrick Mills and Peyton Logan. It seems the next step down the depth chart is in line to make some noise as well, with LeVante Bellamy and B.J. Emmons each looking solid against the Lions.
Bellamy took his six carries for 34 yards, while Emmons led the way with nine carries and 39 yards, including a pair of rushing scores. Emmons’ first TD was a thing of beauty as he looked to be stopped for a five-yard loss before reversing field and leaving defenders in his dust on the way to a score.
While I understand that import running backs are a dime a dozen, if either Bellamy or Emmons shake loose from the Stampeders in this process, they should find employment quickly.
Unexpected changes to receiving corps
 
The late start to the game meant that the Stampeders kept both Malik Henry and Jalen Philpot in street clothes for the contest, with both coming off serious leg injuries last season.
The Stampeders said the late changes to the lineup were merely precautionary, but it did mean that they were once again without two of their biggest weapons.
Cam Echols made the most of the extra reps, catching all five balls that were thrown his way for a total of 69 yards. Erik Brooks also brought down all of his three targets for 54 yards to make his case to stay on the team.
The Stampeders suffered major depth issues last year due to injuries to their pass-catching unit, so I’d expect an extra body or two on the roster this season.
Defence gives them nothing
 
The Stampeders’ defence also featured a host of starters and played against a group of Lions that should concern their fans if injuries were to occur.
The Stamps allowed just 221 total yards of offence to the Lions, much of which came in the fourth quarter. A last-gasp drive went 72 yards before being held at the goalline on consecutive QB sneaks that Lions’ QB Chase Brice fumbled.
The end-of-game sequence featured a procedure call on B.C., followed by a Calgary pass interference call in the endzone, a Calgary offside call after the first stop, and finally a second fumbled snap, all with the clock reading 0:00.
Given the way they celebrated the play that finished a game they won by 24 points, it was clearly a point of pride for the Stampeders’ defenders that they were able to keep the Lions from scoring a touchdown on the day.
The numerologists among our readers will be interested to know that the 24-point victory was made possible by 24 different players on the Stamps getting a tackle during the battle.
In the first half, the Lions did not cross the Calgary 45-yard line until the second last play of the half and quickly got the field goal while they could.
Nothing special about teams
 
It was a ho-hum day for both teams when it came to special teams coverage and returns with neither able to break a big play.
Rene Paredes did miss an early field goal attempt, while backup Campbell Fair both kicked and punted admirably, but the only thing I’d expect to come from that is a possible trade offer if someone in another city gets injured.
Paredes has never missed a game in his career since winning the job in 2011, with 211 consecutive contests under his belt and is one of the highest-scoring players in league history.
If Fair stays, he will likely get the job eventually from the 39-year-old Paredes, now a full-time firefighter with the Calgary Fire Department. However, it remains to be seen how long the incumbent Calgary kicker will play.
Next up for the Stampeders is a trip to Winnipeg to face off against the Blue Bombers on Friday night.
Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Go Stamps Go Show Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.