It may not have been graceful but the Calgary Stampeders still snatched a crucial win over the B.C. Lions in Vancouver on Saturday.
“It was a challenge. That’s the way we’ve played all year. It’s never been overly pretty. Every game’s been close and we fought,” coach Dave Dickenson said after his team beat the Lions 21-16.
The Stamps (12-6) clinched second place in the West Division and secured a home playoff spot with the victory.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders locked up first place in the West earlier on Saturday when they beat the Edmonton Eskimos 23-13.
Dickenson said there’s a lot of work to do before Calgary takes on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West semi-final on Nov. 10, however.
“We need to be better. We won’t win next week if we’re not better,” he said. “But let’s just play loose and hopefully play well. And if we can do that, hopefully show up at MacMahon (Stadium in Calgary), get a win, see how long we can take this thing.”
The Stamps struggled offensively against the Lions on Saturday, relying on four field goals from kicker Rene Paredes in the first half and making a litany of receiving errors before finally tallying a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It was probably the worst game of the year for Calgary’s receiving group, said Dickenson, noting that the squad was playing without Eric Rodgers, who has amassed 1,080 receiving yards on 85 catches this season.
The frustration was evident in the second half because the team knew how important it was to finish the regular season with a win, the coach said.
Ultimately, the Stamps relied on Bo Levi Mitchell to once again come up with some big plays late in the game.
The star quarterback threw for 283 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the victory, completing 20-of-38 pass attempts.
“Bo, he just wins,” Dickenson said. “And that’s the sign of a great player. And kind of just what we do, just find ways to win.”
Mitchell’s biggest play of the night came with less than three minutes to go when he sent the ball sailing 36-yards into the hands of Hergy Mayala, putting Calgary in scoring position. The pair then connected on a nine-yard toss to add a touchdown on the same drive.
Small errors plagued the Stamps offence on Saturday, Mitchell said.
“We moved the ball and only missed on the big plays, just a little bit off on a throw, a catch, a detail,” he said.
“That’s just not the way we play, that’s not the way you ball out. That’s when you make easy mistakes.”
B.C. capitalized midway through the third frame with a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
The excitement began when running back Brandon Rutley escaped the Calgary defence on a fake punt play. His 36-yard dash down the field put B.C. in scoring position. Shaq Johnson and John White helped close the gap for the Lions before quarterback Danny O’Brien dove across a scrum on the goal-line for a touchdown.
O’Brien started the game for the Lions (5-13), passing for 60 yards and finishing 9-of-13 attempts before he was replaced by Brandon Bridge midway through the third quarter.
Bridge threw for 194 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also orchestrated the drive that ultimately saw O’Brien smuggle the football over the goal-line for another TD.
Bridge, a 27-year-old Toronto native, didn’t get a lot of reps in practice this week but was still able to showcase his raw ability and talent against Calgary, said Lions coach DeVone Claybrooks.
“I think Brandon came in and gave us a chance. That’s what you want. He let the ball go and rip,” he said.
Saturday’s loss caps a disappointing season for the Lions, who started with a 1-10 record then seemed to gain some steam before losing marquee quarterback Mike Reilly to a broken wrist last month.
Despite the adversity, Claybrooks believes his squad finished the year better than when they started.
“The key to it is that we always fight for each other,” he said. “We all pull in the same direction and we all believe in what we’re trying to build here. We think that we’ve laid a solid foundation to build off of.”