CALGARY -- Thanks to plenty of horsepower from their running game and a last-play 42-yard field goal from rookie kicker Tyler Crapigna, the Calgary Stampeders opened pre-season play on Saturday night with a 23-20 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium.
A combined 103 first-half rushing yards from Jon Cornish and Jock Sanders helped the Stamps jump out to an early 14-0 lead, as Bo Levi Mitchell and Drew Tate alternated drives as part of a heated duel for the starting quarterback position.
The Bombers battled back and eventually held a late fourth-quarter lead, but Crapigna tied it on a 42-yard field goal with minutes left, before making good on the game-winner with no time left on the clock to give his team the win.
The two Texan quarterbacks have been the focus of discussion so far through training camp, and on Saturday neither did anything to gain separation in the race. What’s clear, however, is that whoever does emerge as the top guy will have a pretty lethal ground game at his disposal.
Cornish didn’t need much time to assert his dominance, as his 32-yard run on the opening drive led to a 1-yard plunge from Tate to give Calgary a 7-0 lead. He was done for the evening after just four carries and a total of 52 yards.
Sanders, who joined the Stampeders as a free agent after winning the Grey Cup with Saskatchewan last November, showed he plans on playing an integral role in the Stamps’ offence this season after amassing 51 yards on five pretty impressive runs.
He dashed by defenders and brushed through a tackle on the way to a 17-yard touchdown run that was a thing of beauty, giving Calgary a 14-0 lead.
The best news for the Stamps though may be that Nik Lewis returned to action for the first time since a season-ending injury last August, making two catches for 19 yards to eventually setup Sanders’ touchdown.
Whereas the Stampeders were just getting started this pre-season, the Bombers wrapped theirs up with a second straight loss, less than a week after dropping their opener 24-22 to the Toronto Argonauts.
Even though rookie head coach Mike O’Shea failed to get that first win under his belt, he’ll have some positives to glean before his team’s season opener back at home against the Boatmen on June 26th.
Drew Willy showed plenty of accuracy and an understanding of the offence in his second straight start, finishing 14-23 for 172 yards despite some dropped passes by Bomber receivers.
Rookie receiver Jaymar Johnson was his favourite target as the pair hooked up for 59 yards on five catches in just over one half of work, while veteran leader Clarence Denmark had four catches for 60 yards in limited action.
All in all the Blue and Gold showed plenty of spark on offence, but just couldn’t execute consistently enough to score touchdowns as rookie kickers Lirim Hajrullahu and Brett Maher provided all of the first-half scoring.
Brian Brohm, battling for a chance to be Willy's backup in two weeks, showed the most of all quarterbacks in the third quarter when he led the Bombers to their only touchdown on a 29-yard pass to Aaron Kelly. Brohm finished 4-7 for 62 yards.
With the Bombers ahead on Maher's second field goal of the night, they had a chance to put the game away after getting an interception and moving the ball deep into Stamps' territory. But on a second-down play Max Hall was picked off by Dee Webb in the end zone, giving the Stampeders one last breath.
They tied the game on a clutch 42-yard field goal from Crapigna, then after forcing a two-and-out from Robert Marve moved right back into field goal range thanks to a 26-yard completion from Rusty Smith to Damon McDaniel. With no time on the clock, the rookie kicker split the uprights for the second of three attempts, sending the Stamps and their fans into celebration.
The Stampeders close out their pre-season slate next Friday night at BC.
For the Bombers meanwhile there remains plenty of work between now and the team’s regular season opener against the Toronto Argonauts on June 26th, only a lot of it will come off the field as roster decisions loom. The first round of cuts for all teams is on Sunday.