TORONTO — The Calgary Stampeders had been saying it all week long, like a record on repeat. One of the most spectacular seasons in CFL history would mean absolutely nothing if they walked away without the Grey Cup.
And moments after the Stampeders were beaten 39-33 in an overtime loss to the Ottawa Redblacks, the twisted frown on Bo Levi Mitchell’s face spoke of disbelief, and an opportunity lost.
The Stampeders, who were considered by so many as virtual locks to win Sunday at BMO Field, had a horrendous first half before roaring back to send the game into overtime.
Asked if the come-from-behind made the loss hurt that much more, Mitchell said “I’m not answering that question,” then proceeded to answer it.
“Yeah. We made a comeback to win the Grey Cup and had it won. So it (expletive) hurts,” he said, using an F-bomb in anger.
The Stampeders rolled to one of the greatest regular-seasons in CFL history, finishing 15-2-1 and just a point shy of breaking the record for standings points. They dismantled B.C. 42-15 in the West Division final to book their berth in the Grey Cup.
They also captured five individual honours at Thursday night’s award ceremony, including Mitchell, who won the most outstanding player award.
They also had the feeling of a team of destiny, playing for defensive back Mylan Hicks, who was shot and killed outside a Calgary bar in September. The players hung Hicks’s jersey in their locker-room at BMO Field. Hicks’s mom Renee Hill drove up from her Detroit home for the game, and watched from the sidelines dressed in her son’s No. 31 jersey.
But the Stampeders had uncharacteristically dug themselves a sizable hole by halftime, trailing 20-7.
“We had a lot of heart, a lot of fight to get back, a big hill to climb, and almost made it,” head coach Dave Dickenson said of his team’s comeback. “Right there knocking. Just didn’t get it done.”
The Stampeders also lost leading receiver Marquay McDaniel to a shoulder injury late in the quarter. McDaniel hurt the shoulder on a spectacular 51-yard catch. Before he spoke to reporters, a Stamps official helped pull a shirt over his head. The pain was obvious.
“Yeah, I’ve got to see it, but I guess I just came down wrong,” he said. “I don’t know if it was because the grass was slippery, my shoulder might have slipped out from under me, but yeah, once I came back to the locker-room, something wasn’t right, I knew I couldn’t go back in.”
Calgary had touchdowns from Lemar Durant, Jerome Messam, DaVaris Daniels and Andrew Buckley, the backup quarterback from Calgary who became the first Canadian to score a TD in a Grey Cup since Russ Jackson in 1968.
There was only sadness for Buckley, however, in the post-game locker-room.
“We had our hearts set on this game, we worked for it and it didn’t go our way,” Buckley said. “We had chances, and that’s the worst part.”
As reporters walked away, Buckley turned and banged his head against his locker.
Daniels scored on a 19-yard touchdown with 1:46 left in regulation, then Calgary recovered an onside kick and looked headed for the end zone. But on second down and on Ottawa’s two-yard line, Dickenson chose to give the ball to Buckley in hopes he could roll in again. Instead, he was tackled for a loss, and Calgary was forced to kick a tying field goal.
Would Mitchell have run something different?
“I think you know the answer to that question,” he said. “Ball’s got to be in my hands, and (Messam’s). That’s how I feel.
“But it’s not wrong, for what he called it’s a good call, it’s something that we’ve seen in film, with evidence, that we thought would work. And they’ve got a solid D line so it’s not to say that even if we would’ve handed off that he would have got it, but at that moment, I thought the game was over.”
McDaniel was also asked about the play.
“No comment,” he said, then added: “Hey, I’ll go with what Bo said.”
Mitchell, who looked rattled early on Sunday, would make good on 28-of-41 pass attempts for 391 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions.
Daniels caught seven passes for 89 yards, while Jorden caught five passes for 75 yards. Messam ran for 59 yards on six carries.
Alex Singleton, who had nine tackles on the night for Calgary, was asked to sum up his feelings on the season’s end.
“Tonight (it feels) not good,” he said. “But when time goes on, we’re going to realize we had a great regular season and a great playoff run. This isn’t a bad football team, there’s a lot of great players in this room, that will still be great players tomorrow when the sun comes up.”