- FREE AGENCY
CALGARY — The lead was just three, and Bo Levi Mitchell knew his team needed at least one more touchdown to book a trip to Edmonton.
So as the seconds ticked off the clock on Sunday night at McMahon Stadium, and the offence prepared to take the field, the Calgary Stampeders’ quarterback had one more message for his teammates.
“I just brought the offence over, did the same thing any other quarterback would do and told them, ‘hey man, we have an opportunity right now to drive down and score a touchdown and be the reason you get a Grey Cup. But to do that we have to lock in and focus every play’,” said Mitchell.
“We made a decision to do that. I’m glad guys responded. Not going to say that’s the reason we did it. We have playmakers and guys made plays at the right time.”
There was no playmaker bigger than Eric Rogers, whose third touchdown of the game with 3:52 remaining all but punched Calgary’s ticket to a third straight championship game. The Stamps will take on the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw on Nov. 25.
Mitchell had been sacked the previous play, but with his team up a field goal and facing a second-and-goal situation, the Most Outstanding Player nominee put one up for Rogers in single coverage against Bombers defensive back Brandon Alexander.
With his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, Rogers boxed out the defender and high-pointed the ball, maintaining possession all the way through to give Calgary a 21-11 lead.
“There’s not a lot of players that make plays like that,” said Mitchell. “He’s a big-time guy, he understands. He never makes the moment bigger than it is.
“It’s fun to throw to a guy that has that innate ability to silence the crowd, silence the moment — silence the fact that if you make this catch, we’re probably going to the Grey Cup — and just focus on catching the ball and finishing it off.”
Rogers also scored on back-to-back drives in the second quarter, hauling in touchdown passes of 12 yards and eight yards.
Head Coach Dave Dickenson has had his challenges with Rogers this season, having to manage his playing time as he deals with an ailing knee following surgery. The 27-year-old returned to the Stamps after two seasons south of the border. He first broke into the league in 2014, contributing to the team’s Grey Cup Championship in Vancouver, before leading the CFL with 1,448 yards in 2015.
Despite being in and out of the lineup, including having to miss the regular season finale vs. BC, it was no surprise Rogers made an impact when needed the most.
“I thought he’d have a good game, I really did,” said Dickenson. “I know he’s been, I’m not going to say pacing himself, but he knows his body limitations. He hasn’t been feeling the same all year so I think we did everything right leading up to this, giving him some time.
“I knew once the game started he was going to have a big game. Now, can I get him back to feeling that way for the Grey Cup? That’s going to be the challenge.”
This season brought an unprecedented rash of injuries to Stamps receivers, claiming Kamar Jorden, DaVaris Daniels, Reggie Begelton and Marken Michel to long-term losses. The team signed Chris Matthews and Bakari Grant, while Markeith Ambles was promoted from the practice roster as the offence adjusted on the fly.
For the first time in a while, Dickenson had the luxury of picking and choosing his lineup at receiver this week, and even with Daniels returning from injury, he was comfortable with the players he went with.
Mitchell was more than comfortable with Rogers going into Sunday’s playoff game.
“We honestly didn’t script for Eric to have those plays in the end zone,” said Mitchell. “I always let the defence tell me where to throw it. They were in man a lot and Eric’s a hard guy to cover in man. He just takes advantage of the plays that are there.
“I trust Eric, I understand his body language and where he’s going to be on certain things. He makes it easy to trust down there in the green zone.”
Rogers finished with a team-high 61 yards on six catches, while Ambles, Matthews and Richard Sindani were also frequently targeted.
The Stamps took plenty of shots throughout the evening, going deep on four of their first five passes in the game, connecting on one and also drawing a penalty for illegal contact. In the end, Mitchell was held to 214 yards on 17-of-31 passing.
“I thought he was fairly sharp, made some great throws,” Dickenson said of his quarterback. “He managed the game extremely well again. I just wanted him to win football games and in my opinion there’s no one better.
“Stats are great,” he added. “I like big numbers, I want a lot of points but I’ll take a W as the most important stat and I’m looking forward to that and Bo seems to do that each and every week.”
The numbers may not look pretty, but in the end, Mitchell made plays when he needed to, including a 15-play drive in the second quarter on which he completed all four attempts on second down. The Stampeders took their first lead of the game following Rogers’ 12-yard touchdown reception, and they never looked back.
“We dug ourselves out of a hole,” said Dickenson. “We needed that drive. To get that touchdown, it got us going. Luckily we were holding them to field goals, but we weren’t making the plays.
“I thought we were sharp in the first half, and in the third quarter, fourth quarter we were hanging on,” he added. “We’ve got to be better. We can’t hang on against Ottawa. They’ve got a lot of power on offence, and their defence is always a challenge for us so it’s going to be a great game.”