It was second and no fear for the Calgary Stampeders.
When they needed it the most, the Stampeders were able to convert second-and-long situations into big first downs in their 27-16 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS in Sunday’s 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
“That’s what we do,” shouted wide receiver Chris Matthews as red-and-white confetti swirled around him. “We knew what we were coming out here to do.
“They thought we were going to come out here and be timid. That’s not who we are. We are smash-mouth football. We are champions.”
Calgary finished the game converting 13 of 26 second-down conversions. The REDBLACKs were good on nine of 22 attempts.
“Second-and-long is the hardest part of the game,” said quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, named the game’s most outstanding player after completing 24 of 36 passes for 253 years, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
“When you get in second-and-long its very tough because that (Ottawa) defence is very, very good. With the footing and everything we just felt if we got the ball into guys’ hands quickly, they could catch the ball and get vertical and make the play.”
The Stampeders set the tone early. In the first quarter, facing a second-and-17 deep on their side of the field, Mitchell found Matthews for a 38-yard gain.
“We came out here for a championship, nothing else,” said Matthews, who finished the night with four catches for 59 yards.
Calgary’s second touchdown was second up on a gusty play by slotback Eric Rogers.
On a second-and-10 from the Ottawa 28-yard-line, Mitchell lofted a pass to Rogers. The six-foot-three, 215-pound Rogers made the catch, slid on the slippery field, but regained his footing in time to deliver a vicious straight arm to Ottawa safety Antoine Pruneau, before securing the first down.
“We made some plays when we needed,” said Rogers, who has six catches for 64 yards.
On the next player Mitchell found Lemar Durant in the endzone for a 14-3 lead. Durant was named the game’s outstanding Canadian after making four catches for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, facing a second and 10, running back Terry Williams ripped off an 11-yard run.
“You have to stay on the field,” said head coach Dave Dickenson. “You usually do win with time of possession.
“I felt good about our plan but to be honest the field took us out of a lot of plays. We knew we couldn’t do double moves, so we had to try and adjust our play calling.”
During the season Calgary converted 185 of 399 second down conversions. Of that number, almost 40 per cent were for seven yards or more.
The Stampeder receiving corps was shredded this season with injuries to DaVaris Daniels, Kamar Jorden, Marken Michel and Reggie Begelton.
To replace them, the Stampeders turned to players like Matthews, the CFL rookie of the year who had been out of football for almost a year after being released by the NFL Baltimore Ravens, and Bakari Grant, who was released earlier in the season by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Grant was thrilled to finally win a Grey Cup after losses in three previous games.
“It means the world,” he said. “I have been in this game for eight ears. I know how hard it is to get here and win it. To do it after the season I had, I’m speechless right now.”
Matthews was part of the NFL Seattle Seahawks team that lost to the New England Patriots in the dying moments of Super Bowl XLIX. He had four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Matthews was more interested in celebrating the win than discussing the past.
“I’m a champion,” he said. “It’s about this right now. We won. It’s about the Grey Cup 2018. We won that.”
Get all the top stories from across the league delivered to your inbox.