Stamps Are Champs!

The league’s most dominant regular season team claimed its first Grey Cup since 2008 on Sunday night in Vancouver, as the Stamps earned a 102nd Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 20-16.

It was an emotional night in Vancouver that ended in heartbreak for the Ticats, after a Brandon Banks punt return touchdown late in the fourth quarter that would have given them the lead was called back on a holding penalty inside the final minute.

Drew Tate ran for two touchdowns and Bo Levi Mitchell was a magician, as the CFL’s highest-scoring team was too much for the upstart Ticats to handle. The Stamps bolted out to a 17-0 first-half lead and never looked back.

While the centre of attention this week was leading rusher and New Westminster native Jon Cornish, Mitchell stole the show, throwing for 334 yards on 25-of-34 passing. His performance was one among the Grey Cup’s greatest, completing 22 of his first 25 passes while marking the third-highest completions streak in Grey Cup history with 10 in a row during the third quarter.

The Ticats roared back in the second half, led by a stingy defence that upped the pressure on Mitchell and forced a key fourth-quarter interception. But on offence they just couldn’t overcome Calgary’s stingy red zone defence, settling for three Justin Medlock field goals.

The loss marked the second straight Grey Cup appearance and loss for the Ticats, as the season ends on a disappointing note for the CFL’s youngest team and one that took a key step forward in its development.

After exchanging punts, the Stampeders took the early momentum on what appeared to be a routine second-and-short play just six minutes into the opening quarter. There to meet Grigsby behind the line of scrimmage was Deron Mayo, whose shoulder jarred the ball loose and put it on the turf.

The Ticats managed to recover and punt, but the big defensive play seemed to jolt a Stampeder offence that began the game with a two-and-out.

Standing comfortably behind the league’s top-ranked offensive line, Mitchell took his time and found an open Eric Rogers to his right for a 27-yard gain.

After moving the chains with a second-down completion to Tim St. Pierre, Mitchell went to Lewis on a slip screen up the middle and the Stamps’ veteran receiver really got the crowd roaring, bowling over defenders on the way to a 13-yard gain to the Hamilton goal line.

Finishing off the drive was the CFL’s regular-season rushing touchdowns leader, Tate with a 1-yard run to make it a 7-0 Calgary lead. The sneak capped off a five-play, 55-yard drive taking 3:00 off the clock.

A quick two-and-out by Calgary’s defence got Mitchell and co. back on the field quickly, and the Stamps’ highest-scoring offence went right back to work. With the ball at his own 44, Mitchell connected with Rogers for a 12-yard gain to get things started.

Cornish was stuffed on first down and the Stamps took two procedure penalties as the Ticats’ faithful turned up the volume, but Mitchell, poised and confident in the pocket, again outwaited Hamilton’s secondary before hooking up with Simon Charbonneau-Campeau for a 23-yard pickup.

That play could have been circled right away in the game summary, as the Stampeders looked to turn it into something bigger. Mitchell completed his next two passes to put Calgary on the doorstep, before a pass interference penalty on Brandon Stewart in the end zone moved the ball from the 11 to the one.

Finishing off the drive with his second touchdown of the game was Tate, capping off a 66-yard drive over 4:21 to make it 14-0 Calgary with 14:01 left in the game’s opening half.

With the most of three quarters still to play, the Ticats had plenty of time to get things around. Just in time they started to figure out that stingy Stampeder defence, as Collaros led the offence deep into scoring range after connecting with Banks for a 36-yard pickup on a play he made first with his legs.

But the Ticats couldn’t finish with seven, and that proved costly. The 26-yard field goal attempt by Justin Medlock was blocked by Demonte Bolden, and the Tabbies came away empty-handed.

The 24-year-old Mitchell stayed in tune, again moving the Stampeders into the red zone on a 43-yard completion to Rogers to kick-start the drive. A screen pass to Price got Calgary in nice and close, but the Ticat defence didn’t break this time, forcing an 11-yard chip shot by Rene Paredes to make it 17-0.

That stop for Hamilton’s defence was a big one, as the offence continued its forward momentum. After electing to start at the 35 instead of taking the kickoff, the Ticats quickly moved into scoring position. Then, after not finishing on the last drive, Collaros found Banks streaking in behind coverage for a 45-yard touchdown.

The fastest man on the field finished off a quick scoring drive and a busy first half, putting the Ticats down 17-7 after digging an early hole.

While Tate and his two touchdowns led the Stampede, the 24-year-old native of Katy, Texas was the star of the first half, completing 14-of-17 passes for 220 yards. Collaros meanwhile wasn’t totally outmatched, throwing for 155 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-13 passing.

With a 10-point lead at halftime, the Stampeder offence began chewing up the clock. Mitchell continued his completions streak to 10 straight with another six in a row, until finally an incompletion put an end to the drive.

Still, the Stampeders were able to melt 6:32 off the clock early in the third, extending their lead to 20-7 on a 19-yard field goal by Paredes.

The Ticats were able to cut the deficit to 20-10 early in the fourth quarter on a Medlock field goal, before a big play on defence provided an enormous opportunity to really get back in the game.

With Mitchell in a groove, the Ticats were able to get some pressure on the evasive scrambler. The gambler finally got himself into trouble, forcing a pass into coverage and eventually the hands of Delvin Breaux for the game’s first interception.

Hamilton’s drive stalled in goal-to-go when Grigsby was stuffed on a second-down run, but another Medlock field goal cut the Ticats’ deficit to 20-13 with just 5:35 remaining.

The Ticats’ hungry front-four seemed to apply more and more pressure as the game progressed, including late in the game when it mattered most. A Calgary two-and-out put the ball right back in the hands of the offence, which took over with 3:55 left in the game.

Collaros then scrambled and found Tasker for a 22-yard gain over the middle, before completions to Madu and Bakari Grant moved the Ticats to the Calgary 18 just inside the three-minute warning.

But a batted pass by Lemon and a sack by Corey Mace forced a third Medlock field goal, making it 20-16 with just over two minutes remaining.

Back on the field and needing a first down to ice the game, Mitchell was able to move the chains once on a completion to McDaniel before eventually being stopped short on a second-down completion.

The ensuing punt was a game-changer. The Ticats set up the wall and Banks broke containment, sprinting for what appeared to be a go-ahead touchdown along the right sideline. But the play was called back on a hold, forcing the Ticats to start at their own 12 with 35 seconds remaining.

Pinned in his own end, Collaros was sacked by Lemon — the eventual back-breaker in a game the Stampeders would narrowly hold on to win, 20-16.

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