Cam Cole: Lions went meekly into the off-season

 

Injury-riddled Stampers dominated in every facet of the game

 
 
 
 
Calgary Stampeders Jerome Messam runs against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
 

Calgary Stampeders Jerome Messam runs against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.

Photograph by: Darren Makowichuk, Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network

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Well, what were they supposed to say? The B.C. Lions spent all week trying to convince anyone who would listen, and perhaps themselves, that they were playing their best football of the season at exactly the right time.

The Calgary Stampeders weren’t buying.

What happened in Sunday’s Canadian Football League West semifinal at McMahon Stadium is just what was supposed to happen: a very good 14-4 team eliminated a mediocre 7-11 squad with consummate ease.

Despite nothing like a master’s class in quarterbacking from their MVP, Bo Levi Mitchell, and despite having to use defensive lineman Junior Turner on the offensive line after losing two starters in the first half — thus blunting the running game — the defending Grey Cup champions were never threatened.

They may not even have been glared at with any conviction.

The Lions went meekly, 35-9, and were so roundly second-best in every facet of the game, they couldn’t even provide a speed bump on Calgary’s road to next week’s West final against the first-place Edmonton Eskimos.

The Battle of Alberta that has been such a dud in hockey so far instead will take place on the football field at Commonwealth Stadium where, with any luck, a pair of 14-4 teams will make for compelling theatre.

Sunday was anything but that.

Keon Raymond’s first-quarter pick six of Lions’ rookie QB Jonathan Jennings not only seemed to puncture whatever fantasy the visitors may have entertained, it set the tone for a day of domination by the CFL’s best all-around defence.

“It was a big emotional lift, created a spark, (that’s) exactly what it did,” said outgoing head coach John Hufnagel, whose swan song at McMahon was a comprehensive rout.

“We were sputtering a little bit and needed a spark to get going, and I just happened to be the spark,” said Raymond, the eight-year veteran who’s made so many big plays for the Stampeders.

“I just saw (receiver Bryan Burnham) run an out, and he kind of stutter (stepped) at me, and I’ve been playing this game a long time, man, and they ain’t too many moves I ain’t seen.

“So I sat on it, and he ran the out and I said, (Jennings) better not throw this ball — if he do, I’m going to the house.”

What had begun as a slow, halting start by the Stamps turned on a dime and it was pretty much one-way traffic from that point on.

Jennings broke his left collarbone on a quarterback sack by defensive end Frank Beltre late in the second quarter, forcing coach Jeff Tedford to go to the bullpen for veteran Travis Lulay, but with little effect.

“We didn’t know it at the time, because (Jennings) came off the field as if nothing was wrong, but every time he moved, they could feel his collarbone moving,” said Tedford.

He said he wouldn’t have pulled Jennings for performance reasons.

“No, he threw a pick, but he was doing fine. It’s just unfortunate he went down like that.”

“Calgary was a better team today, they absolutely controlled the field position battle,” Lulay said. “We couldn’t shift it even when we had the wind in our favour. They got first downs going into the wind and pinned us deep and we just weren’t in scoring range nearly enough today.”

The Lions trailed 24-6 at the half, and it was all mop-up work after that for the Stampeders, who completely stifled the Lions’ kick return teams, as well.

All the Lions’ points came from three field goals by Richie Leone.

The Calgary offence was necessarily limited after losing two offensive linemen, centre Pierre Lavertu and left guard Shane Bergman.

Turner had never played as a regular offensive lineman until Sunday, though he’d been in on short-yardage situations.

“This time, it got real. I just didn’t want to get my quarterback killed, that was my first thought,” he said. “I’ve done short yardage, but having to play actual base offence is a whole different ball game.”

“I thought we handled adversity with a lot of poise,” Hufnagel said. “When we had the first injury, we shortened the game plan down, and when we got the second injury, we threw the game plan out.

“I was glad to see we were still able to make some plays … one thing we didn’t want to do was panic and ruin the game for ourselves.”

Mitchell completed 15 of 24 passes for 199 yards and two TDs, both to the CFL’s leading receiver, Eric Rogers, the second one set up by a 61-yard catch and tightrope walk down the sidelines by Messam, who earlier had run over linebacker Adam Bighill for a 15-yard rushing touchdown.

“Obviously I’d have loved to see the offence have a better game, including myself,” said Mitchell.

“But we put up over 30, held them under 10, now we can go on to the next one,”

ccole@vancouversun.com

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Calgary Stampeders Jerome Messam runs against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
 

Calgary Stampeders Jerome Messam runs against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.

Photograph by: Darren Makowichuk, Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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