By Lethbridge Herald on November 2, 2023.
INSIDE THE CFL
For the second straight season, the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders will meet in the Western semi-final in Vancouver. Last year, both teams entered the playoffs with 12-6 records. Led by their sensational young Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke, the Lions chased the visitors back across the Rockies, winning 30-16. Once again the Leos carry a 12-6 record into the post-season, but the Stamps struggled to finish 6-12. Calgary hasn’t won a post-season game since they beat Rick Campbell’s Ottawa Redblacks in the 2018 Grey Cup.
Saturday’s game looks like a mismatch. Except for a 41-16 loss at B.C. Place on Oct. 20, the Lions have dominated the Stampeders. For much of the season I’ve believed Calgary was a good team with a few untimely injuries they would overcome and be a genuine contender down the stretch, peaking at the right time. But as legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.” They are not a good team and won’t be next year unless they make significant changes, including dramatically improving the receiver corps and perhaps upgrading the quarterback position.
B.C. on the other hand is a very good team. They rank third in net offence, third in passing, although dead last in rushing. The Stampeders are eighth in net offence, sixth in rushing and seventh in passing. Lion leader Vernon Adams Jr. led the league in yards passing and was second in TD passes thrown. His efficiency rating was 105.5, behind Bomber Zach Collaros and Argo Chad Kelly. Calgary’s Jake Maier had the worst rating of all the starters.
For most of the season, B.C. has had a healthy receiving corps, although Bryan Burnham retired. Calgary was unable to field a full complement of starting receivers Game 1 and they are still shorthanded. While they get occasional production from Marken Michel, Tre Odums-Dukes and Luther Hakunavanahu, only Reggie Begelton is reliable. They had 40 drops. Two of the top-five CFL pass catchers wore orange and black, Kevin Hatcher and Alexander Hollins. They are joined by Lucky Whitehead, Dominique Rhymes and Jevon Cottoy to make up a receiving corps second only to Winnipeg’s.
I wasn’t high on B.C. when making my pre-season predictions because, I wrote, “It all comes down to quarterback. The oft-injured Vernon Adams Jr. has only played 16 games the past two seasons. His backup Dane Evans is inconsistent. Both are mediocre.” Given top-notch receivers and a solid offensive line, Adams Jr. has been great and only missed two games. The lower ranked Jake Maier showed up for work on all 18 occasions. With Ka’Deem Carey, Dedrick Mills and Peyton Logan, Calgary has the better ground game. The O-lines are even.
Defensively, B.C. is led by Canadian Mathieu Betts who Elks’ boss Chris Jones cut two years ago. The Laval grad is his team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Canadian. Of his league-leading 18 sacks, only two were against Calgary. However, other Lion defenders got to the quarterback 37 times, second only to Toronto. But the Stamps gave up the third fewest sacks. Overall, B.C. had the CFL’s second best defence.
B.C. wants to pass, pass, pass. Calgary has to ground the Lions’ aerial attack so they need a lot of heat from Derek Wiggan and Mike Rose. Middle linebacker Micah Awe led the league in tackles and wide-sider Cameron Judge is outstanding. Pressure will be on the secondary, especially Jonathon Moxey, Kobe Williams and Tre Roberson.
The Stampeders want to run, run, run. In their 41-16 win at B.C. Place on Oct. 20, they picked up 212 yards rushing. In their two losses, the Lions jumped out in front early, forcing Calgary to abandon the run and go to the air. The Lions led the league in first-quarter points scored while the Stamps have been slow starters. To win, the Horsemen have to take control early; the defence has to come up big right from the opening kickoff. Otherwise they have no chance.
Only Edmonton took more penalties than B.C. Calgary had the third fewest. The Lions also make mistakes. Their turnover ratio was -12 compared to Calgary’s +9.
Special teams are crucial for field position. B.C. has the better return game, Calgary the superior punter. Rene Parades made 52 field goals, Leo Sean Whyte 50.
The game is B.C.’s to lose.