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‘It stings’: Maier, Stamps battle hard but drop another tough one to Bombers

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WINNIPEG — It’s going to hurt just as much, but as far as losses go, the Calgary Stampeders have nothing to dwell on.

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The Calgary Stampeders (6-4) played their second away game in five days against the two-time champions, who were coming off a bye week, and there was no reason to think they could take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-1 ) on Thursday evening. It was a difficult task against a strong opponent. Nobody picked her to win.

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However, the Stamps had no interest in this narrative. Instead, they fought and scraped, giving the bombers everything they had.

It wasn’t enough. The stamps fell 31-29. This is disappointing.

It’s the third time they’ve played incredibly close against the Bombers this season, and the third time they’ve been on the losing side (losing by seven points in each of the previous two meetings). Of course that hurts.

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“It definitely stings,” said Stamps QB Jake Maier. “These games against the top teams in the CFL boil down to the last 10 minutes or so, the last few drives. In my honest opinion we didn’t finish well enough and that starts with me… I have to be better in those moments.

“We have eight games left and we need to make these the best eight games of the year.”

The loss hurts. They always do.

But there was a lot to like about the Stampeders.

Stampeders running back Peyton Logan is pursued by Blue Bombers linebackers Adam Bighill (left) and Malik Clements during Thursday's game.
Stampeders running back Peyton Logan is pursued by Blue Bombers linebackers Adam Bighill (left) and Malik Clements during Thursday’s game. Photo by KEVIN KING /mail media

With Maier stepping in as starting quarterback in place of Bo Levi Mitchell, the offensive looked better than it had in weeks. Maier completed 23 of 28 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns. At one point, he completed 15 straight passes. There’s reason to believe the Stamps can make a difference with Maier at the helm.

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Overcoming the hump against the Bombers is proving harder than anyone in Calgary would like, but the Stamps have yet to see them again in the playoffs.

And on Thursday they proved once again that they are close to being able to keep up with the Bombers shot for shot.

Is it frustrating that you’ve done that three times now and lost three times in a row? Apparently not.

“It’s not frustrating. They get 18 regular season games for a reason,” said Stamps defensive end Shawn Lemon. “If you find a way to just get better and better every week and find a way to put those games away at the end of the games, we’re going to be fine.”

From the start this was a game where offense dominated the day.

Part of this may have been that both teams thrashed defensive backfields. Hit hard by the injury virus, the Stamps started with an extremely young DB group, while the Bombers lost cornerbacks Demerio Houston and Patrice Rene in the early minutes.

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However, that shouldn’t detract from what was a truly exciting and goal-scoring first half of football.

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The Bombers got started when Zach Collaros — who completed 19 of 26 passes for 294 yards while throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions — linked up with Greg McCrae for an amazing 41-yard touchdown to cap Winnipeg’s opening drive. It was a “you had to see it to believe it” catch and set the tone for what was to come.

The Stamps didn’t wait long to respond, throwing in a highlight reel touchdown themselves when Jake Maier found Malik Henry for a 61-yard TD to tie things up. After two games off the lineup, Henry made a name for himself early and often, with a timely reminder of how much he was missed while injured.

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The scoring didn’t stop there.

The Blue Bombers Gang battle Stampeders running back Ka'Deem Carey on Thursday.
The Blue Bombers Gang battle Stampeders running back Ka’Deem Carey on Thursday. Photo by KEVIN KING /mail media

Regaining the ball, the Bombers drove confidently down the field again until Collaros scored for a 15-yard touchdown with Nic Demski.

We weren’t kidding when we said there were a lot of goals.

The teams traded field goals — the Stamps also earned a point when Cody Grace kicked the ball into the end zone — before Maier reconnected with Henry in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown that the Stamps with at halftime 18:17 lead.

By this point, Maier had completed 15 of 16 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. He had also made a connection on 15 consecutive deals. It was, to put it bluntly, an exceptional half of the Stamps QB’s football that made head coach Dave Dickenson’s decision to start Maier in place of Bo Levi Mitchell seem very wise.

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While this was an offensively dominated game, it’s worth highlighting a defensive game here. Right at the end of the half, the Bombers had the ball deep in Stamps territory and Collaros tried to get the ball into the end zone, only for his pass to be intercepted by Stamps DB Brad Muhammad. It was the first of two end-zone interceptions by Muhammad, and while this was an offense-dominated game, the young DB was responsible for keeping up to 14 points off the board.

The second half… well, more of that.

The Bombers opened with a 71-yard drive that ended with Dakota Prukop finding Rasheed Bailey in the end zone.

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The Stamps responded by having Maier—again—join Henry for their third touchdown connection of the night.

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It was a back and forth in football. Two rivals go head-to-head, continuing their incredible 2022 tradition of playing classics at every meetup. The kind of game that even the most die-hard CFL hater would have to admit, yeah, that was pretty awesome.

The touchdown frenzy slowed after Henry’s third major, although this should not be confused with the offense drying up.

Blue Bombers slotback Greg McRae is being chased by Stampeders defender Shawn Lemon during Thursday's game.
Blue Bombers slotback Greg McRae is being chased by Stampeders defender Shawn Lemon during Thursday’s game. Photo by KEVIN KING /mail media

On the next drive, the Bombers drove with abandon only to land the ball in Muhammad’s hands a second time as they tried to put it in the end zone.

The Stamps then managed a field goal of their own that gave them four points with 13 minutes left and set up another exciting finish.

The Bombers also responded with another well-executed drive that ended with Prukop fighting his way into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run that put the Bombers up by three.

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A punt single put the Stamps to two, but that was as close as it could get.

So now the Stamps are going into Labor Day back-to-back against the Edmonton Elks. These are winnable games.

They’ll know the Bombers are waiting for them at the end of the season, and while it’s certainly disappointing that the Stamps couldn’t beat them in three games this season, at least they know they’re close.

They just have to find a way to finish what they start.

“It seems like it’s a broken record, we’re right there, we’re just not doing the games,” said Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson. “I love our fight, I love our effort just not making enough games to win a game, especially here. I thought we were there, we worked hard and the guys really risked everything but again when you get to an L it really hurts and I certainly need to take a deep breath too. I thought we worked extremely hard, trained extremely hard, and if you don’t get rewarded at the end, it hurts.”

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