CALGARY — It was, alas, a dumb call. Maas-ively dumb—there is just no other way to describe a 32-28 loss.
It was the call that turned a Western Final classic into a Western Final “Whaaa…??” Sunday afternoon at McMahon Stadium, with the Calgary Stampeders predictably running the Edmonton Eskimos out of time after head coach Jason Maas’ decision to kick a 20-yard field goal while down by seven points with minutes to play.
“I thought it was a classic,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson of the game, his team en route to its second consecutive Grey Cup game, this time against the Toronto Argonauts. “It’s always classic when you win though.”
The only classic this hard-fought Battle of Alberta will be remembered for years from now, however, is the call the Eskimos head coach made with the game on the line.
Let’s set the table:
Calgary led 32-25, and the Eskimos found themselves with a third-and-four at the Stampeders’ 13-yard-line. There were just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the clock ticking.
Maas needed a converted touchdown to tie—a touchdown and a two-point convert to win—and his offence was 13 yards away from the Stamps’ goal line with plenty of time.
Instead, he opted to kick a field goal.
“We kick it deep, our defence gets a stop, and we have about a minute to go down and score one touchdown and beat ‘em. That was the mindset,” Maas said after the game. “(It was) a belief in our whole team. The defence was going to get the stop, the special teams was going to get the ball back for us, and the offence would … go down and score.”
To Maas’ credit, he was open to chewing on the decision in his post-game media briefing. We’ve all seen his temper on TV, but here he was open to second-guessing by the media, which came when a someone said, “Even after the field goal you needed another touchdown anyway, right?”
“Yes, you’re right,” Maas admitted. “You could say, ‘If you felt (so confident in your team) why didn’t you just go for it on third-and-four? That’s a fair question. We decided to go the other route and it didn’t work, and there are questions asked and consequences to it.
“You could lose a ballgame. It turns out, that was the case.”
Synopsis: Maas chose to try and score again from somewhere around midfield, with less time, over scoring from the 13. He chose his woeful special teams, and a defence that hadn’t stopped the run all day, ahead of the most potent weapon at his disposal by far—quarterback Mike Reilly.
Maas said he wanted to win, not just tie. Great. Then punch it in, and know that CFL teams convert two-point converts at a 61 per cent success rate, a far higher percentage than long drives with little time left on the clock.
In the aftermath, it was Calgary linebacker Alex Singleton who put it best: “To think they could come out and stop (us) after we rushed for 150 yards in a half—with 1:40 left—was a bad call, in my opinion.”
It is more than likely unfair to dwell on an Edmonton chance not taken on a day when the Stampeders were truly the better football team for the majority of the day.
Ironically, on a breezy, warm day in Southern Alberta, the Stampeders took the tried and true path to Western Final success, owning the trenches and running their way to the next Sunday’s big game. They came with a merciless two-back rotation staffed by five-foot-seven, 165-pound water bug Roy Finch, and six-foot-three, 254-pound Jerome Messam.
The Eskimos defence couldn’t stop either one, and the pair accounted for 152 rushing yards and another 69 on mostly swing passes.
“We don’t use Roy as much in the regular season, because he’s a little guy and he’s so valuable,” explained Dickenson. “We decided we would do a 30-40 split—30 or 40 per cent for Roy, and the rest for (Messam).”
Messam was a microcosm of the Stampeders as a whole, criticized for a lackluster final three games of the season, all Calgary losses, after having wrapped up first place in the West. Meanwhile, Edmonton had won six straight games coming into this Western Final, a point driven home when the Eskimos took an early 14-0 lead.
“I understand my team and my veterans,” Dickenson said. “When you clinch, it’s hard to play with that same intensity. I wasn’t decided (if Messam would be his feature back), but I had faith in him, and he rewarded me.
“That made me feel great.”
Why do we say Calgary was the better team Sunday, deserving of another crack at la Coupe Grey? Because they went down early, then outscored Edmonton 30-1 before hanging on to win, with some help from Maas’ shaky strategy.
The Stamps were favoured last year before Ottawa knocked them off in overtime. This November they will be double-digit favorites against Toronto.
And they’ll win by at least that.