If the trio of regular season meetings between the BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders are any indication of what’s to come in the Western Semi-Final, CFL fans are in for a real treat at BC Place on Sunday.
The battle for second place in the West was an exciting one between Calgary and BC that went right down to the second last week of the regular season. The Lions, who had the won the season series against the Stampeders, locked up home field advantage with a win over the Elks in Week 20.
Sunday’s Semi-Final is as close to evenly matched as you can get as both finished the regular season with identical records 12-6. It also features the top two running backs, and two of the top defences in the league.
Week 10 was the first of the three regular season matchups and the Lions clawed their way back to win on the foot of a Sean Whyte game-winning field goal with five seconds left on the clock to win 41-40.
Nathan Rourke had a sensational outing that evening, breaking his own record and career-high in total passing yards from the week prior, completing 39 of his 53 attempts for 488 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the loss, Bo Levi Mitchell added more to his HOF-worthy resume in this contest. With Mitchell’s first completion of the game, the pivot passed Henry Burris to become the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards.
The next time the Leos and Stamps met was a few weeks later in Week 15, but it wasn’t Rourke and Mitchell behind centre for either team. Vernon Adams Jr. took over as the Leo’s signal caller with Rourke sidelined with a foot injury, while the Stamps decided to roll with Jake Maier instead of Mitchell for the remainder of the season. Butler was a major factor in the 31-29 overtime win for the Lions as he totalled 83 yards and two touchdowns (including one in extra the extra frame) on 13 carries in the contest.
The third and final outing was a 25-11 Stampeders victory where a pair of running backs helped propel them into the win column. Carey rushed 12 times for 84 yards and a major score while Peyton Logan also got in on the scoring with a 19-yard scamper into the end zone late in the contest.
With three exciting matchups between these two already in the books, there’s no doubt Sunday will be on the same level. Here are three storylines to follow as the BC Lions get set to host the Calgary Stampeders in the first round of CFL Playoffs.
Kid Canada. The Next One. Whatever you want to call him, Nathan Rourke is the biggest storyline to watch heading into the Western Semi-Final.
After suffering a Lisfranc sprain in Week 11, there were many questions surrounding the Canadian pivot and if he would make a return this season. Incredibly, the 24-year-old was ready to go for the team’s regular season finale and played in the opening quarter of Week 21’s contest against the Blue Bombers, where he got back into game action and tested his foot and his mobility ahead of the playoff matchup against Calgary. In 15 minutes of work, he completed seven of 11 passes for 68 yards.
Rourke finished the regular season sixth in passing yards with 3,349 despite only playing in 10 games, and ended the year second in passing touchdowns with 25, just behind Zach Collaros (37). He also added 304 yards and seven majors on 39 carries on the ground.
Ahead of the Canadian sensation is the biggest test of his young career. The Lions will be hoping Rourke will look like the quarterback he did prior to his injury – accurate, mobile and quick to get the ball out of his hands after the snap. And if he does, Calgary’s defence will need to be at their absolute best.
THE BATTLE OF THE BACKS
If you’re looking to watch the top two backs to run the ball in 2022, the Western Semi-Final features them both.
The league-leader, Ka’Deem Carey, will be the feature back for the Stampeders, but he isn’t the only one that is a threat to the Lions defence. Dedrick Mills and Peyton Logan are also both dangerous anytime the ball is in their hands. Mills has racked up two touchdowns to go along with 228 yards on 31 carries in the final two games of the regular season. Over the course of the season, Logan has amassed 365 yards and three major scores on 58 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Despite all three being able to make plays when they hit the field, all eyes will understandably be on Carey, who finished at the top of the league with 1,088 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground on 164 carries in just 14 games.
His counterpart, James Butler, was just behind in total yardage (1,060) on 210 carries while finding the end zone seven times in 17 games. The balance of both the aerial attack and the rush attack was key for the Lions throughout the season and Calgary’s linebackers will have their hands full trying to stop the run on Sunday.
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS
Defence wins championships? Well, in the Stampeders case, that may be true, especially since they boast a defence that has been a force to be reckoned with.
And one player in particular has been excellent so far in 2022 for the Stampeders: Shawn Lemon.
Lemon consistently disrupted quarterbacks in 2022, finishing the year second in sacks with 14, just three behind Ottawa’s Lorenzo Mauldin. Those 14 sacks were tied for a career-high – the last time Lemon had that many quarterback takedowns was in 2016 with the Toronto Argonauts. The 34-year-old was also tied for the league lead in forced fumbles (five), and had two fumble recoveries. Plus, he tallied a career-high in tackles this season with 29.
The BC Lions offensive line will no doubt have their hands full with Lemon, and the rest of the Stamps defence that finished the year at the top of the league in sacks (56).