Saturday, June 16, 2018

WHEN IT COUNTS: STAMPS COME ALIVE IN FOURTH TO TOP TICATS

It took just over three full quarters but the Calgary Stampeders offence came alive when it counted most, finding pay dirt in the fourth quarter and outlasting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-14 in their season opener Saturday evening at McMahon Stadium.
Despite passing for over 200 yards in the first half it was the Stampeders run game that fueled the home squad in the final frame with Don Jackson and Terry Williams combining for 117 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the contest.
The Ticats — who held the lead for a good majority of the game — ran into an active Stampeders secondary down the stretch which shut down Jeremiah Masoli who passed for 302 yards on just under 70% passing.
One of the subplots in this matchup was how the young and inexperienced Tiger-Cats secondary would net out against a veteran-laden Stampeders offence.  Despite scrimmaging from their own seven-yard line to start the game, Calgary pressed the issue early as Mitchell connected twice with Reggie Begelton totaling 70 yards to set up a 23-yard Rene Paredes field goal to open the contest 3-0.
The Stampeders continued to move the ball with ease for the remainder of the first quarter but would lament a few missed opportunities as three overthrows stalled Calgary drives.
Despite being in control most of the opening frame the Stamps would surrender the first major of the game when Masoli helped get his team out of a second-and-long deep in his own end.
Facing pressure, Masoli stepped into a deep throw down the near sideline to WR Mike Jones who had a step on his man and turned a catch-and-run into a 76-yard gain.  On the ensuing play, Masoli went play-action, froze the Stampeders defensive front and scampered 13-yards untouched for the major and a 7-6 Ticats lead heading into the second quarter.
As the second quarter rolled on, it was the tale of two quarterbacks looking to attack in different ways.  Despite some incompletions, Mitchell continued to stretch the field while Masoli took what he could underneath.  Both moved the ball well but could not capitalize once in opposing territory.
The teams traded a pair of field goals before the half with Hamilton holding a slim 11-9 advantage.
Despite each defence forcing drives to come to a halt, both pivots each put up over 200 yards passing in the first half with Masoli completing passes at a rate of 84%.
Masoli continued to operate at a high efficiency when the third quarter began but two consecutive positive possessions ended just past midfield – one by fumble, one by sack.
The Stamps also had challenges gaining traction in the third against a Ticats defence that despite giving up big gains along the ground, took away the deep ball.
Calgary opened the fourth quarter with a 23-yard field goal by Paredes to regain the lead 12-9 before they finally took their biggest lead of the contest. A 39-yard pass interference call on Hamilton’s DB Don Unamba allowed Mitchell to find Kemar Jorden for a 15-yard touchdown with 9:58 remaining.  The five-play, 65-yard touchdown drive was capped off by a Terry Williams run on a two-point conversion to give Calgary a 19-11 lead.
The Tiger-Cats looked to answer and did so with a 43-yard field goal after a pair of completions from Masoli to Jalen Saunders cut the lead to 19-14 with 4:25 on the clock.  Saunders finished with over 100 yards receiving on the day.
The Ticats had an opportunity to make a comeback, taking the ball with 2:33 left and scrimmaging from their 34 yard line.  A pair of Saunders completions put them in Calgary territory Masoli was flished out of the pocket, forced a throw and was picked off by veteran Brandon Smith.
Jackson put the game away shortly thereafter when he took a handoff 44 yards for the touchdown and iced the 28-14 victory.
Hamilton will double dip in Alberta visiting the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 2.  As for the Stampeders, they will get another shot at an Eastern opponent when they visit Toronto for a Grey Cup rematch with the Argonauts.

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