The Calgary Stampeders pinned themselves, their Grey Cup defeat a self-inflicted wound of the first degree. The mistakes in the first half, especially, were a litany, joyful for the hometown Toronto Argonauts and damning for the visiting Stamps.
But even after a long series of blunders in the early going – penalties, an interception returned for a touchdown, running back Jon Cornish going absolutely nowhere on the ground (and losing a fumble) – the Stamps had a shot late in the second quarter. In the red zone, the Stamps were poised for a turn. Down 17-3, yes, but a touchdown would put them within seven, a drive that could have been a turn if Calgary had converted.
Nik Lewis gave Calgary the chance, rumbling 61 yards down field, a solitary bright moment for Calgary. A couple plays later, on the three yard line, second down, Calgary handed the ball not to Cornish – damning of the league’s leading rusher – and instead chose a kind-of sweep to receiver Romby Bryant. The Argos swarmed and stomped Bryant for a loss of eight.
A field goal made it 17-6, and Toronto then ploughed right back down the field, aided by a porous Calgary defence whose tackling was often pathetic and particularly hurt as the first half ticked away. Grey Cup veteran Ricky Ray had less than three minutes on the clock but it was well enough to get the ball down field. Then, at the goal line, backup quarterback Jarius Jackson rolled to his right and hit Dontrelle Inman, so wide open he briefly had his own downtown postal code.
Calgary’s ground game was barely existent, and their air attack that cracked the defending champion B.C. Lions so effectively a week ago was also absent.
Still, even with the Argos solidly ahead 27-9 late in the third quarter, the Stamps had something of a shot – and again shot themselves. Larry Taylor, the Calgary return man who had been threatening throughout the evening, took a kickoff 105 yards for a score that would have made it 27-16 – but the ball came back on a holding penalty by all-star Calgary defensive back Keon Raymond.
To start the fourth, in a play that showed the lousy depths Calgary plumbed on Sunday night, receiver Marquay McDaniel was open for a pass that he could have taken the whole way – but, turning for the ball, he tripped and fell – a self-inflicted incompletion, true bumbling.
The Stamps in Toronto briefly looked like they were going to roll over the Argos and go wire-to-wire just like they did a week earlier in Vancouver as they de-clawed the Lions. Calgary picked off Ray on the first play of the game but on the Stamps’ first play Cornish ran into a wall of Argos for a loss of one. A delay of game followed – Calgary and quarterback Kevin Glenn were rattled by the noisy Rogers Centre, after not being rattled at all last week at raucous BC Place. Glenn then tossed a lousy incompletion and the team punted the ball.
Cornish’s failings underlaid all of Calgary’s first-half problems – but it was hardly all his fault. Coach John Hufnagel at halftime said the offensive line provided nothing in the way of protection on first downs, and all the holes were plugged by Argo linebackers.
The result: near the end of the first half, Calgary had seven yards on the ground. Cornish – who was held to 39 and 43 yards against Toronto earlier this year – was averaging 1.57 per carry, seven tries for 11 yards.
The loss marked Calgary’s ninth defeat in 11 visits to the Rogers Centre in the past decade, all regular season games previous to Sunday night, the latest loss being the biggest and most painful, and made worse by the fact the Stamps could only blame themselves.