Stampeders ground Bombers to finish perfect preseason and seven other thoughts

Photo courtesy: Calgary Stampeders

The rebuild is complete!

Ok, that might be a little hasty, but the Stampeders still finished the preseason with a perfect 2-0 record with wins over the two best teams in the West from last season in the B.C. Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It would be easy, and completely correct, for fans of those teams to point out that few of the big names that will make up the Week 1 roster of either club were on the field. The Stamps were still able to get some valuable reps as they try and rebound from the worst season in a generation.
The Stamps allowed just a single offensive field goal in a game they won 31-10 after a lengthy rain delay at halftime, the second straight week the team has had to wait out the lightning to strike down their opponents.
Here’s what I saw from the incredibly close-up feed on CFL+ in my Innisfail hotel room.
Maier does enough
After getting the first half last week, Jake Maier was limited to a single quarter against the Bombers. He would go four-for-five for 96 yards and arguably should have had more, if not for a dropped ball by Marken Michel that may have gone for a touchdown.
Maier has done enough in this preseason to cement himself as the Week 1 starter and was getting improved protection and time in the pocket.
The Stamps’ quarterback threw a nice ball to Cameron Echols for 53 yards to move the team downfield and then had a nice screen pass to Dedrick Mills go for 26 yards, though that play was negated by a penalty.
If not for the penalty, the Stamps would have been on the three-yard line but instead had to settle for a field goal.
Other QBs in action
Stampeders head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said that the Stampeders were leaving Tommy Stevens at home this week but that he would be on the roster following training camp.
If Stevens and Maier are guaranteed their spots, is it possible the Stamps could cut Matthew Shiltz following camp? One of the bigger-name signings for the club in the offseason, the former Hamilton Ticat went five-of-13 for 101 yards and led two scoring drives, each ending in field goals.
Shiltz did drop one into the hands of LeVante Bellamy in the endzone, but the running back couldn’t secure the catch, leading to one of the field goals. His passes were often batted down, tipped, or otherwise defended and the two times he ran the ball, he came up with just two yards.
While Shiltz was better than the other candidates last week, he made fewer plays and went downfield less often in this game. By comparison, Logan Bonner went six-of-nine for 125 yards and Kyle Vantrease went four-of-five for 62 yards, each leading a touchdown drive in the process.
Bonner found Peyton Logan alone along the sideline for a 15-yard scamper to paydirt, and Vantrease had a completion to Cameron Echols, originally ruled a touchdown but changed to down at the one, before handing the ball off for the major.
If Maier is indeed the solution for this season, it could benefit the Stampeders to forego a veteran backup and really develop the two young quarterbacks they have in the stable. CFL newcomer Beau Baldwin is the quarterbacks coach this season and as the guy who coached Bo Levi Mitchell, Vernon Adams Jr, and Matt Nichols at Eastern Washington University, he clearly knows a thing or two about making a successful CFL quarterback.
 
Stampeders’ first first-rounder shows promise.
When Ben Labrosse was selected fourth overall by the Stampeders in this year’s draft, several pundits thought the team made a bit of a stretch grabbing the defensive back that high.
Labrosse paid off some of Calgary’s faith in this game with an athletic interception in the third quarter. The McGill product needs some polishing, but the skill level was on full display.
Laundry leads to touchdown against 
The Stampeders didn’t take many penalties but of the five flags that flew, two had a substantial impact.
The first, mentioned above, negated a 26-yard catch-and-run from Dedrick Mills. The second was an unnecessary roughness penalty called on Trevon Tate that pushed the Stampeders out of field goal range.
In and of itself, the penalty could have been excused if the Bombers didn’t return the ensuing punt 109 yards for a touchdown on the very next play.
Last season the Stampeders allowed four return touchdowns, albeit all on kickoffs, which made up more than a third of all the scores in that scenario for the entire league in 2023. No punt return touchdowns were scored last year at all, making this a rarity in recent games.
 Defence again proves stout
 
The Stampeders left much of their front seven at home this week, as five starters got the week off.
That didn’t stop the defence from duplicating last week’s smothering efforts as they allowed just a single field goal, while also scoring a safety.
When your defence allows a net yardage of negative one on the day, it’s been a great day at the ballpark. The longest pass completed was just 13 yards, the longest run allowed was just seven yards, and the biggest Winnipeg offensive play was a fumbled snap recovered for a 28-yard run on a third down by punter Dante Mastroguiseppe.
The Calgary defence would also post a pair of sacks, a matching pair of interceptions and five additional tackles for a loss to round out the day. By contrast, they allowed seven first downs and just 121 total yards of offence to the Bombers.
They weren’t playing Winnipeg’s best, but the guys auditioning for jobs and spots as backups showed grit and determination.
A reward for your patience!
 
Twice already I have written about Cam Echols and it is time to finally give him the dedicated attention he deserves.
Calgary coaches and fans alike hope there are more days like this to come from the 29-year-old, as he made several tough catches, caught some deep balls, and was very nearly in the endzone on a day where he recorded eight receptions on ten targets for 160 yards.
Echols bounced around the CFL for a few seasons before returning to America to play in the USFL and found his way back to Canada this past offseason. He has no shortage of experience but has yet to make the kind of impact he did in this game north of the border.
If Echols can put half of this kind of performance in every week, it will take substantial stress off the minds of the Stamps’ coaches after seeing Malik Henry suffer a season-ending injury earlier in camp.
Throw it all away
 
As nice as it may be for Stamps fans to see their team win both preseason games, once the cuts are made and the games count for real, there may yet be work to do for the club.
The first chance they will get is when Bo Levi Mitchell returns to McMahon Stadium for the first time with the Hamilton Ticats on Friday, June 8 for the 2024 home opener.
Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Go Stamps Go Show Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.