The Canadian Press
Before we look ahead to the remaining three games on the Week 1 schedule, let’s use this space to give some due to the very strong season opener that we saw last night in Calgary.
The Stampeders gutted out a 30-27 win over the visiting Montreal Alouettes in a game that was entertaining from start to finish. We’ve got you covered on all of the details of the first Thursday night football game of the season, but I want to hit on the theme of the night. It started out as a small pulse and by the time the game got into the final three minutes it was screaming at all of us, as plain as the still-blue skies in Calgary as it neared 10 p.m. MT (I miss those summertime Albertan sunsets).
Resiliency reigned on Thursday night. We saw it in Vernon Adams Jr., whose first pass attempt of the night was deflected and eventually intercepted, with the Stamps getting a touchdown on the ensuing possession. Adams simply went back to work, leading his team right back into Calgary’s end zone on the Als’ next drive.
We saw it in the Als’ reaction to losing William Stanback, who had to be carted off the field in the second quarter with an ankle injury. His teammates came over to him in that cart and gave him encouragement and wished him well as he left to be examined. They finished the drive he was hurt on with another touchdown, on the way to opening up a 10-point halftime lead.
Then we saw it with the Stamps, whose second half was an uphill battle. Calgary’s defence held the Als to just a David Cote field goal — including blocking a third-quarter Cote attempt — in the second half, while Mitchell led the offence through its comeback until he was charley horsed late in the game. Jake Maier played the role of closer for the Stamps, coming into the game cold with 3:54 to play and coolly making all of the plays needed to let Rene Paredes break the 24-all tie.
Whether you were at McMahon Stadium on Thursday night or at home watching, you were on your feet as Adams sent a bomb of a Hail Mary into the end zone. The prayer wasn’t answered, but the two teams set a very high bar for the remaining three games on the schedule this weekend.
So let’s take a quick look at those games.
Masoli and the Bombers’ defence
Jeremiah Masoli may have a more personal connection to the the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defence than just about any other quarterback in the CFL (Cody Fajardo perhaps is a close second). The Bombers handed him one of the toughest defeats of his career almost six months ago to the day, when they topped the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 108th Grey Cup in overtime.
Masoli had his former squad at the brink of ending its 22-year Grey Cup drought, but Deatrick Nichols got a finger on an end zone-bound pass, deflecting it away from the intended target, Jaelon Acklin. In the second OT of the Grey Cup game, Winnipeg’s defence volleyed and snagged a Masoli pass, cementing their win.
Masoli was injured and watched from the sidelines in 2019 when the Bombers ran away with the 107th Grey Cup game in Calgary. The source of Masoli’s injury that year came in July, when he was leading the Ticats to a win over the Bombers at Tim Horton’s Field.
When we got back on the field last year after the cancelled 2020 season, Masoli watched his rivals raise their championship banner at IG Field. In his first game as a REDBLACK, he’ll do the same tonight. There is no doubt plenty of fuel in the fire for Masoli, who leads a revamped and potent-looking REDBLACKS’ offence into this season.
Do the skies open up in Regina?
I don’t mean like this, first of all. When the Roughriders host the Ticats on Saturday night, we have a pair of running backs that will be itching to pound the ball up the field. That might be a challenge.
Don Jackson and the rest of the Ticats’ running back stable will be going up against a Riders’ defence that loaded up on linebackers in the off-season. The Riders added Darnell Sankey in free agency and brought Derrick Moncrief back into Green and White after he spent the last portion of 2021 in Edmonton in his return from exploring NFL options. Larry Dean is making his way back from an Achilles injury suffered in last year’s training camp. They’ll miss Micah Teitz, who excelled in Dean’s absence last year, while he starts the season on the six-game injured list. Still, that’s a formidable and aggressive wall of humanity waiting behind the Riders’ defensive line.
It won’t be much easier for Jamal Morrow. The Riders’ new starting RB will face a Ticats’ defence that allowed a league-best 1,115 rushing yards in 2021 (79.6 yards per game). Simoni Lawrence, Jovan Santos-Knox and Kameron Kelly led Hamilton’s linebacking corps and are poised to do it again, working behind a still-imposing defensive line.
All eyes on QBs in BC
It was just one half of pre-season football, but Nathan Rourke looked sharp last week (13-19, 145 yards, one TD) in his practice run against the Riders. Week 1 closes out with Rourke going under the lights for real as a starter against the Edmonton Elks and a Chris Jones-led defence.
For Edmonton, we’ll finally get an unfiltered look at what Jones wants to do with his quarterbacks. It seems that Nick Arbuckle will get the start, though Jones suggested to media in Edmonton this week that he was still considering using all of his available quarterbacks in Vancouver.
Arbuckle made 9-10 passes in the Elks’ first pre-season game for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Bombers before missing time in camp and the second pre-season game with a chest injury. He’s been back taking first-team reps in practice this week.
We’ll start to get a sense of just how competitive these two teams can be when we see their quarterbacks in live action, regular season football on Saturday night.