CFL Pass

Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary Stampeders outlast Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The battle for first place in the CFL’s West Division is now a two-team fight.

The Calgary Stampeders (11-5) all but guaranteed that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-7) can be ruled out of that battle by outlasting their rivals and earning a 37-33 victory at McMahon Stadium on Saturday night.

At this point, it would take a miracle for the Bombers to overtake both the Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders (also 11-5) and earn a home game in the West Division Final.

The Stampeders and Bombers will take another shot at each other next weekend, but with Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell playing at a CFL Most Outstanding Player-calibre level over the past month and receivers like Josh Huff gaining confidence by the game – he had 121 receiving yards on Saturday – the Stamps must be considered the favourites.

With the exception of one brutal two-minute stretch in the second quarter, the Stampeders were the better team throughout.

The Bombers ran the ball for 191 yards, but struggled in the red zone and QB Chris Streveler completed only 18-of-26 passes for 134 yards, while also throwing interceptions to Raheem Wilson and DaShaun Amos. The Stampeders defence bent a few times, but it never broke.

The Stampeders offence did the complete opposite. They had very little success on the ground and ran for only 33 yards, but Mitchell was lights out through the air and completed 22-of-33 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. He would have had a lot more yards if it wasn’t for a few key drops from receivers.

In the end, the Stampeders are in a situation where they might need to win every game they play between now and the end of the season to hold off the Riders and secure first place in the West Division.

Between Saturday’s win over the Bombers and last weekend’s victory over the Riders, it’s increasingly beginning to feel like the Stampeders might be up to the task.

They came out of the gates firing on Saturday.

On their first offensive play of the game, Mitchell looked downfield and found Eric Rogers for a 55-yard completion. It set them up for what should have been the game’s opening touchdown, but drops by Rogers and Begelton forced the Stamps to settle for a field goal.

They wanted to get out to an early lead to force the Bombers into moving away from their run-heavy attack and try to throw the ball, and it didn’t take long to see why that was the strategy.

The Bombers moved quickly to get QB Chris Streveler and running back Andrew Harris going, as they pounded the ball up the middle right from their first drive.

Midway through the first quarter, they tied the game with a 32-yard field goal from Justin Medlock.

The game wouldn’t stay tied for long.

While the Bombers may lead the league in rushing yards, the Stampeders put up more yards through the air than any other team in the CFL, and Saturday followed the script for both teams.

Mitchell was spreading the ball out among his receivers and looking deep more than he has in previous games. A 42-yard pass to Josh Huff set up a nine-yard connection with Begelton in the end zone, and the Stampeders extended their lead to 11-3 on a two-point convert.

If the game felt like it was settling into a routine that was all about to get flipped on its head with an absolutely disastrous 97-second stretch for the Stampeders.

At 12:55 of the second quarter, Medlock kicked another field goal. The Stamps were up 11-6.

On the next play, Stamps running back Ante Milanovic-Litre fumbled the ball deep in his own territory and Bombers DB Marcus Sayles retrieved it and ran it into the Stamps’ end zone for a touchdown. In just 27 seconds of game time, the Bombers had put up 10 points.

It got worse.

When the Stamps got the ball back, Mitchell threw an interception to Winston Rose. The Bombers took possession and immediately scored another touchdown when Lucky Whitehead took off for a 25-yard score.

In a grand total of 99 seconds, the Bombers had scored 17 points and went from being down 11-3 to leading 20-11.

To the Stampeders’ credit, they stopped the bleeding right away and marched the ball downfield with a drive that took five minutes off the clock and ended when Mitchell found Begelton for a 21-yard touchdown.

If anyone was worried that two of the CFL’s best defences were going to keep points to a minimum, it was clear by midway through the second quarter that nobody needed to worry about a lack of offence.

The Bombers were giving as good as they got, too, and even temporarily went away from their run-heavy plan of attack when Streveler found Kenny Lawler through the air for a 34-yard touchdown that put them ahead 27-19 at halftime.

After the half, though, the first cracks began to appear for the Bombers offensively.

On their very first play of the third quarter, Streveler was picked off by the Stampeders’ Most Outstanding Rookie frontrunner, Raheem Wilson.

The Stamps kicked a field goal on the drive that followed, and while the Bombers responded with three points of their own, it was the home team that was beginning to build momentum.

Milanovic-Litre made up for his earlier error by smashing a ball through the Bombers d-line for a three yard touchdown to tie things at 30, and after Medlock kicked another field goal for the Bombers, Mitchell again connected with Begelton for his third touchdown of the game.

Paredes added one final field goal

So for now, the Stampeders remain in first place in the West Division because they own the tie-breaker against the Riders.

They control their own fate and have knocked off their two main western rivals in the past week. They’ve got to beat the Bombers again next week to keep their chances alive, but there was nothing that happened on Saturday that suggests they’re not up to the task.