Monday, November 26, 2018

Calgary Stampeders: 2018 Grey Cup Champions

EDMONTON — It turns out the third time was the charm for the Calgary Stampeders.

After two consecutive years of Grey Cup heart break, the Stamps got it right on Sunday night in Edmonton, earning a wire-to-wire 27-16 victory over the Ottawa REDBLACKS to capture the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.

Bo Levi Mitchell threw two first-half touchdown passes, winning Grey Cup Most Valuable Player, while Terry Williams scored on a Grey Cup record 97-yard punt return, as the Stamps erased their ghosts of November’s past in front of 55,819 fans at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.

Brampton, Ont. native Alessia Cara performed at halftime, but in the end it was Williams’ record-breaking romp with one second left in the first half that stole the show, giving Calgary a 21-11 lead that would not be relinquished.

Don Jackson and Lemar Durant also scored for Calgary, while Julian Feoli-Gudino struck for the REDBLACKS. Rene Paredes and Lewis Ward each booted a pair of field goals. Durant was named the game’s Most Valuable Canadian after hauling in four catches for 30 yards and adding a 22-yard run.

Mitchell finished with 253 yards on 24-of-36 passing but also threw two interceptions. REDBLACKS starter Trevor Harris countered with 288 yards and a touchdown, but also threw three picks on 20-of-38 passing.

Stamps receiver Eric Rogers had a team-high 64 yards on six catches, including three on second down. RJ Harris had a game-high 66 yards on four catches to lead the REDBLACKS.

The Stamps threatened to score on their opening possession of the game, but a promising drive ended abruptly when Mitchell’s pass intended for Bakari Grant was underthrown and intercepted by Jonathan Rose. The turnover marked Mitchell’s sixth interception in four Grey Cup starts.

Mitchell would get a chance for atonement soon after. With the REDBLACKS hemmed up in their own end, Harris’ pass over the middle was intercepted by defensive back Ciante Evans. Juwan Brescacin‘s third catch of the opening quarter then set up the perfect screen pass, with Mitchell dumping it off to Jackson for an easy 23-yard touchdown, putting Calgary up 7-0 with just under five minutes remaining in the opening quarter.

The REDBLACKS moved the ball on their ensuing possession but Ward, nearly perfect throughout the regular season, missed his third field goal of the post-season on a try from 48 yards out.

As the first quarter came to an end, the Stamps’ seven-point lead had much to do with the field position battle, with Calgary’s average starting position starting at the 48-yard-line compared to the REDBLACKS starting at their own 24.

Lewis would redeem himself on his second attempt early in the second frame, hitting from 30 yards out to get Ottawa on the board.

Ahead 7-3, though, the Stampeders responded in orderly fashion. On second-and 10, Rogers fought off tight coverage from Kyries Hebert to make a highlight-reel 20-yard grab. Mitchell struck again on second down, finding a wide open Canadian Julan Lynch for 26 yards down to the Ottawa 34.

After another second-down conversion by Rogers, Mitchell made one of his best plays of the game when he bought time with his legs, escaping pressure to his left before throwing across his body to Durant for a 17-yard touchdown.

Mitchell’s work on second down made the drive possible, as he completed all three second-down passing attempts for 57 yards. The eight-play, 80-yard scoring chewed 4:22 off the clock and put Calgary ahead 14-3.

Just when they needed it most, lightning struck for the REDBLACKS. Harris found an open Feoli-Gudino, who broke a tackle on his way to a 55-yard touchdown. J.C. Beaulieu caught the two-point convert from Harris, cutting the deficit to 14-11 for Ottawa.

It looked like that would make it a one-possession game at the half, but one speedy returner did just what he was brought in to do. Williams caught Richie Leone‘s punt at his own 13, weaved through a crowd of defenders and then sprinted past the kicker, scoring a Grey Cup record 97-yard punt return touchdown.

The score left just one second on the clock, putting Calgary up 21-11 after the game-altering play. Calgary had led after halftime in seven Grey Cups going into the game, going 5-2 over that span with the losses coming in 1968 and last year, 2017, vs. Toronto.

The REDBLACKS chipped away at the deficit early in the third, as RJ Harris‘ grab down the sideline set up a 41-yard field goal by Ward, his second of the night.

Calgary replied quickly though with Rene Paredes‘ first of the night, a 34-yarder that would restore the Stampeders’ lead to 10. Paredes’ field goal put him in the lead for Grey Cup field goal percentage with a 10-for-10 mark, passing former Argos kicker Mike Vanderjagt (9-for-9) based off attempts.

Down two scores and in need of a spark, things turned worse for the REDBLACKS early in the fourth quarter when Diontae Spencer fumbled on a punt return. It was recovered by Stamps special teams ace Wynton McManis, giving Calgary the ball back in optimal field position with 13:33 left.

The REDBLACKS’ defence would hold as Matthews couldn’t catch up to Mitchell’s second down pass in the corner of the end zone. However, Paredes’ second field goal of the game extended Calgary’s lead to 27-14.

The REDBLACKS appeared to cut the deficit to a single score when Harris’ toss to the end zone was apparently caught by a sprawling Greg Ellingson. However, upon further review, the ball was trapped, forcing the Ottawa offence back on the field for a second-and-10. After a pickup of nine by Brad Sinopoli, Harris went back to Sinopoli on third-and-one, only for Jamar Wall to knock the ball loose, forcing a turnover on downs.

With the three-minute warning already passed and the urgency level high, Harris took a deep heave into double coverage looking for RJ Harris, only for Wall to come up with the interception, all but sealing the REDBLACKS’ comeback hopes.

Junior Turner closed the game out with the Stampeders’ only sack of the night. Still, it was a big night for the Stamps’ defence, including three interceptions off Harris by Wall, Evans and rookie Tre Roberson. Alex Singleton had eight tackles, tying a game-high with Ottawa linebacker Kyries Hebert.

JR Tavai had six tackles and a sack to lead the REDBLACKS, who finished with more net yards than Calgary with a 379 to 339 edge, but also turned the ball over six times compared to the Stampeders’ two.

Mitchell won the game’s Most Valuable Player for the second time in his career after first winning it in 2014. He’s the seventh player in CFL history to win multiple Grey Cup MVPs.

The Stamps won despite throwing two interceptions, becoming the first team to win when throwing multiple picks since 1994 when Danny McManus and Kent Austin played quarterback for the BC Lions.

Hawaii Rainbow Warrior Football and the Hawaii Bowl

The Hawaii Rainbow Warrior football team represents not only represents the University of Hawaii at Manoa, but the entire University of Hawaii system, the city and county of Honolulu, and the State of Hawaii and the island kingdom it succeeded. The Rainbow Warriors have had a rich tradition of participating in the postseason. Being in a bowl game is a source of pride from a school's perspective and civic perspective. There is a sense of community and bonding and shared memories from seeing your favorite college team make a bowl game and, if they are good enough, win it.

In the state of Hawaii, there is a bowl game called the Hawaii Bowl. Formally sponsored by ConAgra Foods and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, the bowl game was the product of the 2001 Hawaii Rainbow Warrior Football season, where the team had a 9-3 record but was not invited to a bowl game despite having the caliber and quality to be in one and win it. There have been 12 different winners of the Hawaii Bowl. The most high-profile winner? Notre Dame, who beat Hawaii in 2008. That team is now in the College Football Playoff for this year.

To ensure the viability of the bowl game and to incentivize fans from across O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands to converge on Hawaii's de facto national stadium, the Aloha Stadium, and partake in the gridiron festivities, the organizers of the Hawaii Bowl inserted a clause in which the Rainbow Warriors are guaranteed entry to the contest given that they reach the prerequisite amount of wins. In Hawaii's case, that would be seven.

This year, in 2018, they reached eight, but they were very close to being left out of the postseason due to a four-game losing streak that was snapped on Senior Night against UNLV which was followed by an overtime thriller over San Diego State. A number of other victories were also won the hard way, including a road overtime arm-wrestle against San Jose State and a grinder at home to Wyoming, a team that, despite being 6-6, could be without an invitation due to a surplus of bowl-eligible teams and a number of metrics (i.e. conference head-to-head) working against Craig Bohl's Cowboys.

Nonetheless, this is Hawaii's eighth appearance in the show, and they run this game the same way USC runs the Rose Bowl. Ironically, USC finished this season 5-7 and are not going to a bowl game, a truly regressive year. There have been four times Hawaii have been named champions of the Hawaii Bowl. Only one other team has had multiple Hawaii Bowl wins, and that team is SMU, who also finished with a 5-7 season and is bowl-ineligible.

Hawaii's first appearance in the Hawaii Bowl was in the inaugural edition, a game in which the Warriors lost to Tulane 36-28. To date, that is the last-ever bowl win for the Green Wave, despite a 2013 appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. Like Wyoming, Tulane are in an unenviable position of being a team without an invitation. They finished the regular season 6-6 and with a share of the American West Division title but lose on head-to-head and are at the mercy of UCF winning the conference championship to allow the Green Wave to have a case. The Knights are favored against Memphis but with upsets being a commonality, Tulane stand to be on the outside looking in.

Hawaii's first Hawaii Bowl win came the season after, and in typical Warrior fashion, it was a shootout against the mainland UH, the Houston Cougars. Hawaii won 54-48 in a match that went three overtimes, a game that saw Timmy Chang win game MVP. It was June Jones's second-ever bowl game win as Hawaii head coach. Jones would go on to be the winningest head coach in modern Hawaii football history and one of the players he coached, Nick Rolovich, is now coaching at the school with the same offensive system Jones ran, the run-and-shoot, especially after realizing that running the spread is in violation the identity of success at the program. Interesting to note, the head coach of Houston at the time was Art Briles, and this was before a move to Baylor, one that would see the downfall of his legacy coaching the game, a downfall that has been well-publicized (and consequentially, celebrated) by local and national media.

Hawaii's next bowl victory came in 2004, when Hawaii faced the UAB Blazers and their now star receiver in the pros, Roddy White. Watson Brown was the coach back then for UAB, who lost, 59-40 in an offensive shootout. UAB would fold its program several years later but it would only be temporary as pressure was brought on to bring college football back to Birmingham.

The Blazers' return to the big time was celebrated with a Bahamas Bowl appearance, one they would go on to lose. UAB, this season, have won the Conference USA East Division title and stand to be placed in a far better bowl, although taking care of some unfinished business wouldn't be so bad. Chad Owens was the MVP for the Bows, and Owens went on to a successful CFL career to go with at least one Grey Cup. It should be noted that a young Rob Stone was a sideline reporter for ESPN's broadcast. He is now known for his presentations on MLS and all things soccer for FS1 and Fox Sports, alongside a certain Alexi Lalas.

2006 would be Hawaii's next appearance in a bowl game, and the last Hawaii Bowl appearance for June Jones. It was also the year that Colt Brennan began to leave his mark at the program as quarterback. Against Dirk Koetter's Arizona State Sun Devils, the Bows whipped ASU 41-24. Brennan and wide receiver Jason Rivers were best on ground for their efforts. They were part of the 2007 team that got inducted into the UH Circle of Fame. That team's lone loss came against Georgia, a regular to the New Year's Six under current gaffer Kirby Smart. The coach for Georgia in 2007? Mark Richt, who is now the coach at the Miami Hurricanes, who are also bowl eligible at 7-5 this year.

Notre Dame's lone victory over Hawaii was in 2008, a 49-21 rout. This was before the current golden period under Brian Kelly, 10 years ago. Greg McMackin was the coach at the time and it was not going to be easy for Hawaii to pick up the pieces after Jones left for SMU. (He is now with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats). McMackin again would fall short as they were stunned in 2010 by the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 62-35. The coach at the time for Tulsa was a man by the name of Todd Graham. The 9-3 season was enough to see Graham take the job at Pittsburgh but he only lasted one year before a lengthy stint at Arizona State. Currently, as of this post, Graham remains unemployed. A season later, McMackin also would be sacked as coach of the Warriors.

McMackin's replacement was Norm Chow, and this was akin to the Philadelphia Eagles hiring Rich Kotite. The Warriors never made a bowl game under Chow's tenure with every season being a losing season and unsurprisingly, it would be his last-ever collegiate coaching gig, despite a cameo coaching at prep level in Southern California.

After Chow was fired as Warriors head coach and Chris Naeole fininished 2015 as interim coach, Nick Rolovich finally took over the program and in his first year, thanks to a petition, Hawaii played in the Hawaii Bowl for the first time since 2010. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders were the opponents. The coach of that team? Rick Stockstill, who is still the coach to this day and who players are taking part the Conference USA Championship on their own home turf. 52-35 was the final score, with Dru Brown winning game MVP honors. Ironically, he would transfer to Oklahoma State after the following year in which the Rainbow Warriors regressed.

Which brings us to this season. Hawaii started the year 6-1, their lone loss during that stretch against another bowl-eligible team, the Army Black Knights, who stand to win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy after finally turning the tide against Navy after a length period of domination by the fleet. All Hawaii needed was one victory. But losses to BYU, Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State threatened to derail the Warriors' chances of the postseason. They were made to suffer against UNLV but were able to rally through the understudy to Cole McDonald, a freshman state champion from St. Louis High School, Chevan Cordeiro. St. Louis is also the alma mater of Timmy Chang. In the end, Hawaii were able to pull off some thrilling wins over the Rebels and San Diego State in San Diego, their first in three decades, and an overtime victory highlight by routine pass defense times two.

Some sources have Hawaii facing the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles are no strangers to the show, having participated in 2011. Jay Hopson is the head coach of the Golden Eagles for this season and comes from a successful run coaching Alcorn State and sticking it to established sides in the SWAC such as Grambling (who have regressed this season). An invitation to the Hawaii Bowl will be an excellent opportunity for Southern Miss to be a sleeper side for next season. The coach for the Golden Eagles at the time? Larry Fedora, who was fired at North Carolina. (Hey, they ARE a basketball school, first and foremost. Like Duke.)

Another source has Hawaii facing Louisiana Tech, a former conference rival back in the old Western Athletic Conference. Skip Holtz is the coach at La Tech, and he also is no stranger to the Hawaii Bowl having seen the experience firsthand as head coach at East Carolina. The Pirates were the beneficiary of Hawaii's perfect regular season in 2007 and pulled off an upset rin holding off the Boise State Broncos 41-38. Chris Petersen, at the time, was the coach. He is now at Washington getting ready to lead the Huskies to a possible Rose Bowl invite.

Still another source suggests that the school of Byron Leftwich and Randy Moss, the Marshall Thundering Herd, the sons (and daughters) of the great John Marshall, will be facing UH on Dec. 22. Now Marshall are already bowl eligible and will not gain much from their make-up game with Virginia Tech this week. However, the Herd have never been to the Hawaii Bowl and it would be understandable if the Hawaii Bowl Committee goes in a new direction and offers the other team from West Virginia a literal holiday vacation.

And yet, another source suggests that Middle Tennessee will get a crack at payback against Hawaii. MTSU were 8-4 heading into their most recent with the Warriors and finished third in their conference division. This season sees them far more improved and a return visit to Honolulu will be a great incentive to even the score and possibly spark a new rivalry for the Warriors.

Watch this space, because here at the Bedlam on Baltic Avenue (who have a stake in the fortunes of Rainbow Warrior Football), we believe that it will be the Herd that face Hawaii on Dec. 22. Watch this space because there will be an update to see if this is confirmed or another opponent is selected for the Green and White in their eighth Hawaii Bowl appearance.

EDIT: We have an opponent. To our modest surprise, the aforementioned Louisiana Tech has been named the Hawaii Bowl opponent for the Warriors.