December 31, 2012

Looking back at a memorable 2012

In many ways, 2012 was a year of transition for the Calgary Stampeders.

Just a few days into the new year, Henry Burris — the team’s all-time leader in all the significant passing categories — was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

A little later in January, the Stamps chose to part ways with all-time leading rusher Joffrey Reynolds.

In February, Rick Campbell was hired as the Red and White’s defensive coordinator.

It was hardly a housecleaning — quarterback Drew Tate and running back Jon Cornish, after all, had already moved into the starting roles by the end of the 2011 campaign — but the moves unquestionably created a buzz among fans and the media.

Things started well enough as Calgary won both of its pre-season contests and then whipped perennial East Division powerhouse Montreal in the season-opener but then, on the Stamps’ second possession of a Week 2 contest in Toronto, Tate suffered a serious shoulder injury.

The Stamps then turned the reins over to veteran Kevin Glenn, who had been acquired in the Burris deal. After a few weeks of adjustment, the Stamps started rolling after their August bye week with 10 wins in their final 13 regular-season contests.

With Tate back at the helm, Calgary knocked off the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a memorable West Division semifinal at McMahon Stadium.

With Glenn called upon again to replace an injured Tate, the Stamps upset the defending Grey Cup-champion BC Lions in the West final at Vancouver’s BC Place.

Unfortunately for the Red and White, the six-game winning streak was snapped in the Grey Cup as the Stamps fell to the Toronto Argonauts.

Despite the disappointing finale, there’s plenty worth remembering about 2012.

Go Jonny Go

It’s almost a disservice to refer to Jon Cornish as a “great Canadian running back” as the New Westminster, B.C., native was the CFL’s top runner this past season regardless of passport.

That said, Cornish’s accomplishments made it impossible to ignore his nationality. For starters, he owned the Canadian-player-of-the-week award, taking home the honour seven times in the regular season and twice more in the playoffs.

Cornish also won three of the four Canadian-player-of-the-month awards. Not surprisingly, he was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian at the year-end awards show during Grey Cup week.

All that is impressive enough, but Cornish’s greatest True North accomplishment in 2012 may well have been eclipsing Normie Kwong’s 56-year-old record for most rushing yards in a season by a Canadian.

Armed and dangerous

The value of having a contingency plan was illustrated by the Stamps’ quarterbacking situation in 2012.

After winning all three of his 2011 regular-season starts and looking sharp in the 2012 season-opener, Drew Tate was seemingly well on his way to proving he deserved the starting position. Then came the awkward tumble at Toronto’s Rogers Centre and the shoulder injury that would require surgery.

That’s when Calgary head coach and general manger John Hufnagel’s insistence that Kevin Glenn be part of the package of assets acquired from Hamilton in the Henry Burris deal paid off significantly.

The 12-year veteran posted a career-best pass-completion rate of 66.7 per cent and cracked the 4,000-yard mark for the third time.

When Tate reclaimed the starting job to start the playoffs, Glenn was the consummate professional and quietly went about his role as the backup as the Stamps won the division semifinal.

As luck would have it, Tate suffered a wrist injury late in that contest which meant that Glenn was the man for the West final at BC. The veteran delivered a brilliant performance, throwing for 303 and three touchdowns in a win over the defending champs.

And if all that isn’t enough, rookie Bo Levi Mitchell — just 22 years old — showed great promise. He scored five rushing touchdowns as Calgary’s short-yardage QB and, in limited passing opportunities, threw for two more scores.

Lewis going strong

Nik Lewis’ ninth season with the Stampeders was arguably his best. The slotback led the CFL with 100 catches and he became the fourth player in club history to reach triple digits in receptions.

Lewis amassed 1,241 receiving yards matched a career best with 10 touchdowns and earned the third CFL all-star berth of his career. He also extended his run of consecutive games with at least one catch to 157.

His career numbers put him in exclusive company as he now ranks 13th on the league’s all-time receiving yards list and 10th on the receptions chart.

The comeback

Speaking of Lewis, the slotback played an integral role in one of the CFL’s most memorable games this season.

On July 20 at McMahon, the Stamps rallied from a 17-point deficit with less than six minutes to play in regulation to defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 41-38 in overtime. Lewis’ third touchdown catch of the night was the decisive blow.

The comeback started with a 21-yard score by Lewis and continued with a Larry Taylor receiving major that was set up by a Malik Jackson interception and a game-tying field goal by Rene Paredes.

After the Riders took a 38-35 lead with a field goal on their first overtime possession, the Stamps answered with Lewis TD No. 3.

Kevin Glenn threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns in the contest.

Case for the defence

First-year defensive coordinator Rick Campbell’s unit faced some challenges in 2012 — most notably, a rash of injuries on the defensive line and the secondary — but nevertheless produced excellent results.

Led by three members of the West Division all-star team — Charleston Hughes, Juwan Simpson and Keon Raymond — the Stamps chopped their points against total by 36 from the previous year and finished in the top half of most significant league statistical categories.

Led by Hughes’ career-best total of 11 sacks and sparked by the mid-season addition of veteran Anwar Stewart, the Stamps pass rush was a force in the second half of the campaign and finished second in the CFL with 43 bagged quarterbacks.

The Stamps defence also featured nice bounce-back seasons by linebacker Malik Jackson and defensive tackle Corey Mace after injury-hampered 2011 campaigns.

Foot soldiers

For the first time in history, the CFL’s all-star kicker and punter were both members of the Stampeders as Rene Paredes and Rob Maver were the men who accomplished the feat.

Paredes converted 93.0 per cent of his field-goal attempts in 2012 to set a new team record and establish the second-best single-season success rate in CFL history. He was good on 40 of his 43 field-goal tries including his final 18 in a row.

Maver was honoured as an all-star in his first season as a pro punter and after playing just one game in 2011.

Maver’s net punting average of 36.2 yards was best in the CFL and he was among the CFL leaders in punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line with 24 (just one fewer than the league-leading total) and punts inside the opponents’ 10 with seven. Only two of Maver’s 112 punts were returned for more than 30 yards, another category in which he led the CFL.