CALGARY — The B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders find themselves in similar spots heading into Thursday night’s game at McMahon Stadium between the two winless CFL teams.
The Lions lost their opening game 33-29 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on the road in Regina on Aug. 6, while the Stamps fell 23-20 at home the next night to the Toronto Argonauts.
"You don't want to get into a hole early in the season, so it’s a big game for both teams," said B.C. coach Rick Campbell. "We’re literally just trying to work on ourselves, get to be a better football team and then get on the right side of the scoreboard. I think this shorter season’s going to make for even more impactful games, just because there's less room to make up as the weeks go by."
Campbell is expecting to use rookie Canadian Nathan Rourke as his starter on Thursday, with veteran QB Michael Reilly still battling an elbow injury.
"Nathan definitely takes most of the reps in practice and we’re planning on him being the starter," said Campbell, while noting that Reilly will still be an option under centre come game time. "He does keep getting better, but he’s got to get to a place where obviously he can function at a high pace for him and our football team."
Although Rourke started the game against the Riders, he ended up splitting playing time with Reilly, who went 17-for-23 for 203 yards and one touchdown.
After completing 10-of-18 passes for 194 yards to go with two TDs and two interceptions in Week 1, Rourke is hoping to have a bounce-back effort against the Stamps.
"I would say I’m very motivated,” said Rourke, whom the Lions picked 15th overall in the second round of the 2020 CFL Draft. "I think we were motivated to go in and win last week in a tough environment and we fought as tough as we could in the second half to make sure that we would do so, and we just came up a little bit short. So the mindset hasn’t changed.
"What’s great about this team is that it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, so we’re back to work this week and we’re looking forward to the next challenge."
Like Reilly, Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell is dealing with a nagging ailment that could limit his playing time on Thursday. Although he’s nursing a calf injury, Mitchell was still listed first on Calgary’s depth chart on Wednesday, ahead of Canadian quarterback Michael O’Connor and American pivot Jake Maier.
Calgary coach Dave Dickenson said Mitchell "is a little limited this week" and the team wants to make sure he's healthy, which is why they have three quarterbacks listed on the roster.
"Not that we expect anything, but just covering our bases," said Dickenson.
While the Stamps failed to protect a 20-12 lead in the fourth quarter against the Argos in their home opener, Dickenson said he saw plenty of positives for his team to build upon.
“I thought our offensive line played well last week," Dickenson said. "We handled some really good pass rushers, a lot of twists and we were able to run the ball. If we do that, hopefully we have more success this week as far as points on the board."
Despite the setback, linebacker Jameer Thurman said he thought the Stamps played well, especially since the CFL didn’t have a season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was a good first game, especially being off for so long," Thurman said. "We wish we could have did a little more for a different outcome of the game. It didn’t work out that way, but we’re looking to bounce back this week as well."
While he looks forward to playing against Reilly every season, Thurman said the Stamps still have to be prepared to face a motivated Rourke when they take on the Lions.
"We’ve still got to take it serious," he said. "No matter who’s at quarterback, we still have to run our game plan, run our schemes and just fly around and run to the ball."
B.C. (0-1) AT CALGARY (0-1)
Thursday, McMahon Stadium
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE — The Stamps have emerged victorious in 12 of their 14 most recent battles against the Lions. Calgary also boasts an 8-2 record in the 10 latest meetings at McMahon Stadium, winning at least one home game against B.C. in every season since 2012.
HOMECOMING, OF SORTS — Lemar Durant capped off a four-year stint with the Stamps by helping Calgary win it all in 2018. Although he signed with the Lions in 2019, Durant always enjoys coming back to play at McMahon. "I’m excited to play out there and I enjoy playing out there," said Durant, who was the most valuable Canadian of the 106th Grey Cup after helping the Stamps down the Ottawa Redblacks 27-16. "Once I get out on that field, it still feels like home to me. I feel really comfortable out there."
TRENDING UPWARDS — Since becoming Calgary’s head coach in 2016, Dave Dickenson has guided the Stamps to an impressive 53-18-2 record. Although Calgary has won just one of five season-openers during that span, the Stamps have compiled a perfect 4-0 record in the second games of the season under Dickenson. Calgary hasn’t lost two straight games to start the season since 2009.
LOOKING AHEAD — After starting their season with a pair of road games, the Lions will return to BC Place for their home opener against the Edmonton Elks on Aug. 19. The next night, the Stamps will play their third straight home game as the Montreal Alouettes pay a visit to McMahon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2021.
Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press