OTTAWA –Sederrik Cunningham broke a defensive battle wide open with two second half touchdowns as the Calgary Stampeders topped the Ottawa REDBLACKS 32-7 Sunday afternoon at TD Place.
Cunningham had a 66-yard punt return touchdown and a major on the ground to put the Stampeders back atop the West division with a 7-1 record.
The score was not truly indicative of how close this game was at one point, as the Stamps held just a 11-7 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. But 21 points in the game’s final 4:05 put the Stampeders in prime position heading into next week’s Labour Day showdown with Edmonton.
Coming off a close contest against the Eskimos last week Ottawa knew that if they were going to have a shot at knocking off one of the league’s premier squad’s they were going to need a big game from their defence as Henry Burris and company continue to find their footing.
Head coach Rick Campbell couldn’t have asked for a better start from his defence who immediately made an impact on Calgary’s first possession. After gaining a pair of first down’s Mitchell dropped back and looked to his left for an open receiver, only to have his pass batted at the line of scrimmage by rookie defensive back Antoine Pruneau. The ball sailed into the air and into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Jonathan Williams. The former Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman then rumbled untouched 35 yards for the game’s first major and the first defensive touchdown in franchise history.
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Looking to remedy his first possession, Mitchell led a more successful series two drives later. The Stampeders ran an efficient 9-play, 55-yard set which was finished off by a 7-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Drew Tate on a QB sweep.
The Stampeders entered the contest tops in the CFL in red zone efficiency, sitting at 76.2%. From that point on, Ottawa’s defence held Mitchell and co. to just a single point off a missed Rene Paredes field goal to work in the second quarter down just 8-7.
Aiding Calgary’s attack was the return of the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, Jon Cornish, who has been out since Week 1 with a concussion. He finished the afternoon with 16 carries for 74 yards.
Poised to re-take the lead, Burris and the REDBLACKS looked to capitalize off a Calgary two-and-out after three consecutive first downs were achieved. However, with the ball already in field goal range, the former Stamps pivot was eaten up by the Calgary blitz and a conceded sack of 15 yards forced the REDBLACKS to punt midway through the second quarter.
Stuck in a defensive battle the rest of the way through the first half, the missed Paredes field goal was the difference as the teams headed to the locker room with both secondaries taking away the big play. Burris and Mitchell were limited to a combined 132 yards passing in the first two quarters.
As the third quarter got underway, it was Mitchell who notched the first big play. Ottawa had the Stamps pivot in a second down situation inside his own 10 yard line but a roughing the passer penalty on Williams kept the short drive alive.
Mitchell promptly made the REDBLACKS defensive lineman pay for the miscue by airing it out to Joe West down the middle of the field for a 58-yard gain.
A few first downs later and the Stamps seemed poised to put another major on the board. On third-and-short and looking to get a fresh set of downs at the Ottawa 9-yard line, Tate fell forward and would have had the first down but fumbled the ball – D-lineman Keith Shologan pounced on the loose ball to snuff out the potential score and put their the Ottawa offence back on the field.
The newly-gained momentum was short-lived however as Burris threw a pass right into the waiting arms of Calgary defensive back Jamar Wall whose interception put the Stamps in position to kick a Paredes field goal.
Despite a rough quarter, Burris did string along enough completions in the third to edit the history books.
With a completion to receiver Dobson Collins on the final play of the third quarter, Burris moved into third place all-time in CFL passing, surpassing Danny McManus (53,255). Anthony Calvillo (79,816) and Damon Allen (72,381) are the only two pivots ahead of Burris.
From then on it was all Stampeders however.
Midway through the fourth, Mitchell found slotback Marquay McDaniel down the seam for a 31-yard gain and then handed off to Cornish for 9 more. After converting a third-and-short, the Stamps handed the ball off to Cunningham who took a fly sweep to the boundary of the Ottawa defence and turned up field for the 20-yard major.
Cunningham’s next play would not only be the biggest of his brief CFL career but put this game well out of reach.
The Furmon product fielded a punt, bounced outside and sped away 66 yards for the Stamps next score – increasing the lead to 25-7 with just over 4 minutes remaining.
Hugh Charles added a 15-yard touchdown for good measure as the Stamps completed the 32-7 victory.
West led all receivers with 129 yards on four receptions while Mitchell went 16 for 29 for 266 yards passing.
The REDBLACKS now look to regroup before heading to Montreal next week to take on the Alouettes while the Stamps enter the traditional two-game set with Edmonton.