Panic setting in over Stamps’ struggles

Oh my, how quickly the mighty can fall. Two weeks ago in this very space, the Calgary Stampeders were given exemplary mid-season grades in nearly every aspect of the vicious gridiron dance we call football.

Oh my, how quickly the mighty can fall.

Two weeks ago in this very space, the Calgary Stampeders were given exemplary mid-season grades in nearly every aspect of the vicious gridiron dance we call football.

It was proclaimed that the only thing able to stop the Stamps from running all the way to the Grey Cup was, well, the Stamps themselves.

Now try telling that to the Saskatchewan Roughriders or the B.C. Lions.

It seems neither the mean green machine nor the coastal big cats got the memo that the West had already been won, that Calgary’s ticket to Edmonton for the championship festivities had already been printed.

First came the Roughriders Sept. 17.

The Stamps’ strategy seemed simple enough — break the 40-point barrier and hold Saskatchewan to 20 or fewer points, just as they had done in two previous meetings in weeks one and four.

This time, however, the ’Riders came out with all guns firing.

Saskatchewan tailback Wes Cates rumbled in for two big scores and receiver Andy Fantuz left the Stamps secondary grasping at air as he piled up well over 200 yards. When the dust settled, Saskatchewan had squeaked out a 43-37 overtime victory and watermelon-wearing fans from near and far rejoiced.

All right, no big deal.

The Stamps had to know Saskatchewan was always a possible threat in the West, and the loss had come courtesy a slim margin.

All Calgary had to do was shake it off and gear up to blow away the basement-dwelling B.C. Lions, who had scrounged together just three wins in 11 outings.

But it didn’t happen.

In fact, it was Calgary that ended up on the wrong end of a 29-10 shellacking, the team’s first loss at home in over year.

Mild concern in the city shifted to outright panic.

Sure, the Stamps were without four defensive lineman and leading receiver Nik Lewis — the streaking slotback tweaked his knee in the Saskatchewan loss — but it shouldn’t have mattered.

The Lions had struggled all year to even post back-to-back wins, had not beaten Calgary in nine tries since John Hufnagel took over as head coach and had received most of their attention recently for issues surrounding player personnel after defensive free-agent acquisition Rick Foley opted for a last-minute defection to the Toronto Argonauts.

But on Sept. 25, the unthinkable happened.

The Stamps offence looked stymied from top to bottom. Quarterback Henry Burris, who many believed was in the midst of his finest football campaign to date, looked out of sorts all night en route to just 136 passing yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

Coming in, Hank had thrown for more than one major in each and every Stamps game this season.

Making matters even worse, the Roughriders toppled the Hamilton Tiger-Cats earlier in the evening to move just two points back of the Stamps in the West standings with home-field advantage in the playoffs on the line.

Saskatchewan’s window of opportunity may now be wide open over the next two weeks as they will play back-to-back games against the inconsistent Argos, while the Stamps will be served two helpings of the defending Grey Cup champion and East Division-leading Montreal Alouettes.

In other words, Calgary’s sudden and seemingly unexplainable vulnerability could not have come at a worse time.

Jeremy Nolais is a Calgary-area columnist whose column appears in the Advocate every second Wednesday

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