CALGARY – Fred Bennett and the Calgary Stampeders defence swarmed Troy Smith and the Montreal Alouettes, securing a season-opening 29-8 victory at McMahon Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The victory came with a cost however, as star running back Jon Cornish left the game early after absorbing a hit from Kyries Hebert late in the game. Hebert was ejected from the contest following the play.
Maurce Price, Anthony Parker and Cornish all had touchdowns in the win.
Bo Levi Mitchell made his first start as the undisputed leader of the Stampeders offence after beating out incumbent Drew Tate in training camp. He finished with 313 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 on 25 passing.
The Als countered with Smith who helped officially kick off the post-Anthony Calvillo era in Montreal. Smith, who stepped up near the end of the 2013 season to lead the Als into the playoffs entered after a challenging pre-season appearance and looked to prove to new head coach Tom Higgins that he was the long-term solution under centre.
Mitchell and the Stamps opened up the scoring, first with a 57-yard punt single by Rob Maver and then with a 38-yard field goal by Rene Paredes.
The first quarter went by with little incident but concluded with a bang. Backed up inside their own five yard line, the Stampeders decided to forego conservative play-calling and air it out. Mitchell stepped into a pass which hit receiver Maurice Price in stride for a career-long 102-yard highlight-reel touchdown to extend the Calgary lead to 11-0 on the final play of the opening frame.
The pass was the longest Stampeders touchdown strike since Jeff Garcia found Terry Vaughn for 104 yards in 1996.
The story the rest of the way to halftime was the Stampeders defence, led by Charleston Hughes up front and Bennett in the secondary.
Hughes, picked up where he left off last season, generating five tackles and a sack in the first half alone as the centrepiece of a Calgary pass rush that got to Smith four times on the day.
As for Bennett, he had a pick in the first quarter and seemed to have a second one but a major foul on defensive tackle Deron mayo negated the turnover.
Down 11-0, Smith entered halftime looking for a way to solve the Calgary secondary after only throwing for 48 yards in the first 30 minutes. A bright spot for the Als, however, was the man Smith was handing off to, Brandon Whitaker. Returning from an injury-riddled 2013, Whitaker looked sharp in his first game back, racking up 49 yards in the first half.
As the second half began, Mitchell once again marched the Stamps with ease. Already with great field position due to a major foul applied to the kickoff, Mitchell stepped up and found WR Marquay McDaniel over the middle for a 16-yard gain, before taking off for 12 yards on his own. The drive was stalled however, due mostly to a lick laid on the Texan QB by safety Marc Olivier Brouillette to break up a second-and-long in the redzone.
The Stamps settled for a 26-yard Paredes field goal to extend the lead to 14-0.
After the clubs traded punt singles, with the second one breaking the Montreal shutout, the Stamps began to pull away as the fourth quarter began. AS they did so many times last season, Calgary relied on the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, Jon Cornish, to get it done.
With just over 13 minutes remaining, Cornish handled a direct snap and found a hole up the middle of the Montreal defence, rumbling 18 yards for a touchdown and a 22-1 lead. The Lou Marsh Award winner’s major helped cap off a 4-play, 65-yard drive by Mitchell and the Stampeders.
His day would end shortly thereafter though, as the aforementioned hit taken from Hebert forced Cornish to the locker room.
Cornish’s injury occurred in the middle of an impressive Stampeder march which began at their own 2 yard line. Mitchell picked his team up after the hit and promptly spotted Parker wide open in the end zone for a 16-yard major which put the game away with 7:38 remaining.
That drive would signify the end of Mitchell’s day as Tate entered with 5:06 left to finish out the game.
If there was one concern for the Stampeders coming out of this contest it was major foul penalties. The Stampeders took a total of 6 15-yard fouls.
Montreal added a late touchdown with zeros on the clock for their first major score of the game.
Smith finished with 127 passing yards on 40 attempts.
The Als will regroup and return home to host the BC Lions while the Stampeders get an early bye week in Week 2.
Notes: Saturday marked the return of Nik Lewis to the lineup after sitting out the second half of last year with an injury … The much-anticipated debut of Chad Johnson was made at McMahon – he finished with a pair of receptions for 30 yards.