November 14th, 2019

Inside the CFL: Stamps buoyed by great coaching

By Graham Kelly on October 15, 2019.

Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, left, hands the ball off to Don Jackson during first half CFL football action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Calgary, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

It was a beautiful fall evening Friday in Calgary with a dazzling full harvest moon. My favourite football games are between the Roughriders and Stampeders. My sons and grandsons were in attendance, all cheering for the visiting team – I wonder how that came about?

There was a lot at stake for both teams. Saskatchewan came into town with a record of 10-4 in first place, while Calgary was 9-5. A win for the green and white would give them a tight grip on the top spot with a bye into the West final which would be played at Mosaic Stadium. It has been 10 years since the wheat whackers have accomplished that feat.

The previous week, the Stamps turned the ball over five times in four minutes while losing 21-17 at Montreal. They knew they had to do better to stay in the post-season hunt. They did, edging the visitors 30-28. On July 6, Calgary beat the Green 37-10 in the Queen City.

I don’t know how they did it. Clearly the Riders have a superior lineup and the Stampeders are decimated with injuries. That continued Friday. Offensive lineman Shane Bergman got hurt during the warm-up and missed half the game. On the very first series, outstanding corner Tre Roberson was sidelined with a suspected concussion. Left tackle Derek Dennis bit the dust in practice. The Stamps started the game with no back-up O-linemen available. If all that wasn’t bad enough, defensive end Chris Casher was disqualified for the malevolent stupidity of trying to twist Cody Fajardo’s ankle. And, two-time all-Canadian DB Jamar Wall was gone for personal reasons.

They have the thinnest receiving corps in the West and yet lead the league in passing, a great testament to quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell who overcame a weakened line playing against a ferocious pass rush by getting the ball away with lightning speed.

Saskatchewan coach Craig Dickenson acknowledged the situation. “I have to be honest with you. They were on fumes on defence. They did a good job of hanging in there and we didn’t take advantage of the fact that was a depleted Calgary team in the second half. They are well-coached and they know how to make you pay for your mistakes.”

Calgary’s defence has surrendered the fewest points in the division. The team is tied for first. All-star voting will take place shortly. Despite Calgary’s achievements, likely their only dream team selections will be Roberson and receiver Reggie Begelton. With superb sideline jobs done by Hamilton’s Orlando Steinauer, Montreal’s Khari Jones and Roughrider Craig Dickenson, the other Dickenson, Dave, will unfairly receive little consideration for coach of the year. But he is the reason they have been able to overcome so much adversity.

Ater the game, Fajado analyzed his team’s performance.

“Offensively speaking, I thought we did a great job at moving the football but against great teams like that who have won Grey Cups, you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the end-zone. We kicked too many field goals. We had too many penalties, too many holding calls, too many penalties on first downs. Against a team that plays as much zone as they do, you can’t be first and 20 and expect to get to the first down. We left too many plays out there. It was a playoff type game and I didn’t play well enough to give my team a chance. They were the better team.”

Still, I like the Riders’ chances to finish first. They’re in Vancouver Friday to play a Lions team without Mike Reilly. Then, two games versus Edmonton. The Eskimos could bring QB Trevor Harris back for those games but why would they, considering they can’t improve their playoff position? Calgary twice faces a Winnipeg team determined to host a playoff game before finishing in B.C. Both Saskatchewan and Calgary could run the table. Because they won the season series, Calgary would finish first.

Observed Craig Dickenson. “The reality is Calgary is ahead of us. We have to win our next three games and we need them to stub their toe. I doubt they will. We can only take care of ourselves.”

What a brother act!

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 47 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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