Reflecting on B.C. Lions' loss to the Calgary Stampeders
The most troubling aspect for the B.C. Lions as they sift through the rubble of their season that ended a game too soon is that they didn’t even need to win all 60 minutes of the November 18 western final against Calgary. They only had to win a half.
The Lions trailed by just a single point as they retreated to the locker room following an underwhelming first half of play in which they made more defensive mistakes than they had in any half of football all season. Yet with the scoreboard at B.C. Place showing 17-16 for the visitors with 30 minutes left to go, the Lions were basically in a dead heat with the Stampeders. A trip to the Grey Cup was still very much up for grabs.
However, instead of emerging from the break breathing fire and seizing control of a football game that was theirs for the taking, the Lions gave up the only two touchdowns of the third quarter, dug themselves an even deeper hole, and effectively stood around and watched their season crumble.
In the end, it went into the books as a 34-29 Stampeders victory, but the final score flattered the Lions, who never led and were playing catchup all afternoon. Calgary made the most of its opportunities, while all the Lions made were miscues.
“We didn’t play football; I don’t know what that was, to be honest with you, but we didn’t do squat,” visibly frustrated defensive back Dante Marsh told the assembled media in the Lions dressing room moments after the loss. “We didn’t do nothing. They made plays when they were supposed to make plays. Hats off to them; they won the football game. In the past, when we’d make a mistake, the other 11 [members of the defence] would make it look like there wasn’t even a mistake. That didn’t happen tonight.”
The Stamps served notice that they meant business on the second play of the football game, torching the Lions’ defence for a 68-yard touchdown. It was their longest scoring play of the football game, but it wasn’t the only one that chewed up a significant portion of the turf. Later, they added scoring strikes of 57 and 29 yards as Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn sat back and picked apart the usually airtight B.C. defence.
And that ability to challenge—and continually beat—the Lions veteran secondary was the most surprising element of the game.
“We gave them the opportunity to make plays and they made them,” defensive back Ryan Phillips lamented. “I don’t really have an explanation for it. All you can do is look yourself in the mirror and be accountable. We always talk about accountability. If you had a chance to make a play, it’s your job to make it. We should have won. We were at home; we were heavily favoured; we had the best defence; and all these other things. But when you give up that many plays, it’s going to come back to bite you in the butt.”
Now, all of the Lions’ woes in the western final can hardly be laid at the feet of the defence. Good teams find ways to win close games, and the Lions had a chance to make a statement when they started the second half with the football. But quarterback Travis Lulay—so good for so much of the season until an October 12 shoulder injury slowed him down—showed none of his usual brilliance, didn’t complete a pass longer than 19 yards all day, and when his team needed him to generate some momentum, he simply couldn’t muster any.
The Lions were forced to punt on each of their of their first two second-half possessions, which didn’t end the football game but was a pretty clear indication that nothing had changed at halftime. And you could tell that the Stampeders sensed it.
For the Lions, it was an afternoon of field goals instead of touchdowns, mistakes rather than magic. A dream season ended with a nightmarish performance in front of 43,216 fans hoping to send the team to Toronto for a chance to repeat as CFL champions.
Now, rather than suiting up in that CFL showcase—the 100th playing of the Grey Cup—the B.C. Lions join six other organizations that can only sit and watch.
“It’s a wasted season, because I don’t play for consolation prizes—I play to win football games,” Marsh said of the 13 regular-season wins and another first-place finish that ultimately meant nothing. “I eat, sleep, and breathe this. This is serious to me. And for us to go out and put up that display of football, that was horrendous. It’s six months down the drain. Actually, more than that, because in March, April, May you’re preparing for training camp. So it’s just a waste. One big waste.”
That may be overstating it a touch, considering all the good things the Lions did during the season, and there were many under first-year head coach Mike Benevides. But all of the hard work and the regular-season’s success means nothing now, because when it mattered most, the B.C. Lions didn’t measure up to their opponent.
And, as a result, the Calgary Stampeders are the best in the west and very shortly could earn the right to call themselves tops in the CFL. That was a title most were reserving for the B.C. Lions this season.
Not anymore. Not after squandering the second chance they were given in the second half against the Stamps.