There were many reasons to doubt the Calgary Stampeders as they took to the field in Toronto for their Week 9 clash with the Argonauts.
A glance at their roster suggested they were in very deep against the defending Grey Cup champions. The team was without their starting quarterback, Drew Tate, they also had to cobble together a ground game without their top back, Jon Cornish.
Of course that running attack was already operating without perennial all-star OL Dmitri Tsoumpas, sidelined with a concussion.
|Season Done for Lewis|
Then there was the unexpected, unwelcomed news surrounding slotback Nik Lewis. The firey, emotional leader of the Stampeders suffered a potentially season-ending leg injury and underwent surgery in Calgary while the team was on the road.
Add all that to the fact that entering the game, the team had lost 10 of their last 12 visits to Toronto. And that doesn’t even include the Grey Cup loss last November.
Recipe for disaster? No doubt Stampeder fans were wondering exactly what would happen in Toronto. Ricky Ray entered the game red hot. Then, on the first series, the Stamps turned the ball over, leading to a Toronto score. It looked like a long night. And it was - for Toronto.
Somewhere, somehow the Stampeders found an incredible well-spring of resolve and determination. They also demonstrated their faith in their coaches.
All week, despite a mounting injury toll, Calgary boss John Hufnagel preached patience and calm. As he regulary discussed in his daily media briefings, he told anyone and everyone that he was going to take his healthiest 42 players to Toronto and let things happen.
Far from making excuses or moaning about the injury total, he just preached that the next player up on the depth chart was the player he was counting on.
The Stampeders obviously bought into that mantra.
Of course, having locker room leaders like Kevin Glenn makes the task easier. Glenn, who would find himself on the sidelines by the end of the game with an injury, was 14-of-20 in the passing game with no interceptions. His calming presence and his ability to work with a constantly changing cast of characters made a difference.
Defensive end Charleston Hughes also led by example. His inspired play, consisting of two tackles, a forced fumble and a sack, served to inspire the Calgary defence. His exploits have no doubt catapulted him into consideration for Canadian Football League defensive player of the year.
Another player who stepped up for the Stampeders was punter Rob Maver. The Toronto-area native pounded the ball for an impressive 45.6 yard average.
Even better than his punt average, was the placement of the ball. Maver, along with some ferocious special teams coverage, held Chad Owens to five total yards on punt returns.
All those factors combined for the Stampeders to pull off one of the most satisfying regular season wins in recent memory. Exactly how far the momentum of that win will take them is yet to be determined. However, they will have and extended break to savour the victory. The Stampeders have a long week before their home and home series against Edmonton.
It is anyone’s guess who will suit up for those games for the Stampeders. But if the last game against Toronto proved, the Stampeders 42 best men will be prepared!
Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.