Cauz: Dissecting the exhilarating Stamps comeback
With under a minute left in the Calgary Stampeders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats game, TSN’s Rod Smith proclaimed, ‘the thought of overtime an hour ago in this game seemed inconceivable.’
Rod said that as Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary offence was doing all they could to get into field goal range, trailing 30-27. There are so many different directions you can take analyzing Calgary’s wild 33-30 comeback win over Hamilton but the theme that keeps coming back to me is unexpected. Smith echoed that sentiment perfectly; ‘I did not see that final result coming and I bet you didn’t either.’
Usually you will read about a ‘tale of two halves’ when it comes to games that see 20+ point comebacks but in this case, Calgary did not get going until the third quarter was more than half over. Usually there are clues, like the team who is up early is getting it done with fluke plays and is lucky to have such a lead, or the other team is playing really well but are being held back by making that critical mistake at the worst moment. None of those sports tropes apply here.
Dane Evans looked great in the first half whether he was throwing into the wind or had it at his back. It was a gusty weekend here in Southern Ontario; great for kite flyers but not so much for quarterbacks. A big part of their success was an offensive line looked like a completely different unit than the one we saw the week prior in their 30-13 loss to Saskatchewan giving Evans all the time he needed. The Tabbies had 273 yards after 30 minutes of play compared to 99 for the road team. Tim Hortons Field was rocking as blissful Hamiltonians had no idea what was in store. With the benefit of hindsight, let’s do an autopsy of the wildest game so far of this very young CFL season.
What made this game so enticing is both quarterbacks, to different degrees, had something to prove. For Dane Evans it was (and is) about showing the football world that Hamilton management made the right choice choosing him over Jeremiah Masoli. On the other sideline, Mitchell is trying to regain his MOP form and push back on any whispers that his reign over the West is coming to an end.
Let’s start with Dane who had a massive bounce back game throwing for 425 yards and three touchdowns on not the best day for aerial fireworks. His last pass of the first quarter, a 38-yard touchdown to Steven Dunbar Jr., was a combination of a lethal double move by Dunbar and Evans pump faking his receiver open. The decision to go deep was a smart one as Hamilton faced a second quarter of playing in the wind. You may as well be aggressive at that moment.
Late in the second quarter Evans went deep again finding Tim White in the end zone for a 25-yard strike. The star of this play was White for making such a difficult catch but credit Evans who fought through the elements and got the ball to his receiver giving White the chance to make a big play. That first half saw Evans successfully attack Calgary’s secondary at every level. His effective first half made what happened after halftime that much more baffling.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room when it comes to any conversation about Dane Evans: turnovers. He had three in Week 1 and committed three more on Saturday. If you look just at the box score you would be right to question just what the hell was Evans doing out there. However, the true story of the turnovers is a different one. The back breaking, game-turning, how did that happen Titus Wall fumble recovery touchdown off the Evans fumble was a bizarre play to say the least. That was a 50/50 call that could have been blown dead with Evans’ forward progress appearing to have come to an end.
The overtime interception went off the hands of Sean Thomas-Erlington so it’s hard to place the blame on the quarterback. A clean reception means at the very least Hamilton is in range for a makeable field goal that would have tied the game at 33-33.
There is another side to this coin. Hamilton could only generate six points in the second half and that’s on the entire offence including the man taking snaps. The third quarter end zone interception to Wall is the throw that will stick out the most for any Evans detractors. This was the moment where the game started to turn for Calgary as Evans forced that throw right to Wall, who just had to step in front of the receiver and make the easy interception. What could have been a 31-3, or at the very least a 27-3, Hamilton lead with 10 minutes left was now gone and that errant throw kept Calgary alive.
While Hamilton miscues were giving the Stamps life, it needs to be said that Bo Levi Mitchell was not great in the first half. His second pass of the game should have been at least a 30-yard completion to an open Malik Henry but instead the pass fell short, one hopping its way to Henry. I saw several overthrows to receivers who had done their job getting open. It would have got more attention on the broadcast if not for the all the in-game interviews with the most recent Hall of Fame class. That was the right call by the producers, however, as I’d rather hear from Freddie Childress and Mike Walker over how Mitchell missed Kamar Jorden.
Back to the ‘never saw it coming’ theme. The way shocking comebacks work is they usually are kick started by a big mistake by the opponent. Naturally after the Evans end zone interception, here comes Calgary with all the momentum, right? Nope, as Mitchell would throw an interception to Jovan Santos-Knox, who was reading the Stamps QB the entire time on a doomed slant pattern. We can just shelve any notion of ‘cue the comeback’ at this time. That is what made the final 22 minutes of game time so remarkable and, yes, unexpected. It was like a switch went off and Mitchell started beating Hamilton with Peyton Logan screens and deep shots to all his receivers who he had been missing in the first half. It was vintage Mitchell and was great to see, unless you’re at Tim Hortons Field wearing a Danny McManus throwback jersey.
If you are a Hamilton fan, I’m not sure how you take this loss. Do you feel good because the entire offence looked so much better than against the Roughriders or do you lament all the mistakes made that led up to the collapse? As for Calgary, you’re excited to see Mitchell sling it like that. Even after losing his two starting running backs, Mitchell managed to get a win in a hostile stadium in hostile weather conditions.
On a day where the game was celebrating the Hall of Fame, we all got treated to a hall of fame performance from a quarterback who will soon find his place next to other former Stampeders like Henry Burris, Nik Lewis and his own boss John Hufnagel.