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June 29, 2019

IN THE NICK OF TIME

Harder to kill than a salacious rumour.

“When you get thrown into deep water,” reasoned Stamps wideout Richard Sindani, trying to speak above the locker-room din of a wake miraculously transformed into a wedding. “I guess you’ve got two choices.

“You sink.

“Or you swim.

“And Nick, he swam. Fast.”

A la Michael Phelps in the 200 butterfly.

Bounding out of the bullpen throwing strikes like NY Yankees ace Mariano Rivera, back-up quarterback Nick Arbuckle brought the Stampeders back from the brink of a precarious 0-2 start to the season, engineering two touchdown drives in the final three minutes to stun the still-winless B.C. Lions 36-32.

With Bo Levi Mitchell nicked up and looking on from the bench as the time clock ticked away, Arbuckle displayed the burnished poise of the guy he’s been happily taking crib notes from.

“Feels real good,” said Arbuckle afterwards. “It’s the moment I’ve been preparing for since I became part of the team, all the way back in 2016 when I joined the practice squad.

“Just trying to get better and make sure that I’m preparing as a starter every week and learning as much as I can from Bo. Watching film between every drive so I can learn the defence as the game goes on.”

Assuming the rudder from Mitchell, too dinged up to continue, with 2:42 left, Arbuckle erased an 11-point deficit, finding three-touchdown-man Eric Rogers deep in the endzone behind Lions DB Eric Grimes at 14:18 of the fourth quarter to complete the astonishing renaissance.

Just, as it were, in the Nick of time.

“Which one?” said Rogers, when asked to comment on his quarterback. “I had no worries. If the plays were there, I knew he was gonna make ’em.

“When I came back here last year, before Game One, I had to get used to the playbook, our no-huddle package, the hurry-up. He was the guy the first week or two who helped me on that, back in the dorm.

“I’m not surprised.

“Nick, he knows his stuff. He’s a playmaker.”

Arbuckle had shaved the Lions’ lead to 32-27 via a one-yard plunge before collaborating with Rogers on a two-point convert.

There followed a beautifully-arced onside kick from Rene Paredes that Calgary’s own Michael Kuklas almost caught on the fly (officially recovered by Rogers), putting the Stamps back in offensive business.

“Great kick by Rene,” recalled Rogers. “I was supposed to be on the outside but I saw Kluke running and he got a hand on it. It ended up bouncing and I think Nate Holley or somebody was trying to take the ball away and I’m like: ‘Hey, I got the ball already!’

“But that’s how hungry everybody was for the ball. We just wanted another chance.”

On the ensuing, decisive drive, Sindani went down to pull a 26-yard pass thrown low by Arbuckle which, after review, set the Stampeders up at the B.C. 12-yard-line.

Two plays later, Calgary was – amazingly – in front, via Rogers.

“Today’s our equipment manager Geo (George Hopkins)’s birthday, his 60th,” laughed Rogers. “I told him before the game I was going to give him a W for his birthday. After that score, he came up to me and I said ‘I told you I was going to get you that W for your birthday.’

“So that was pretty cool.

The snare by Sindani, all agreed, was the moment when hope became belief.

“It’s kinda funny but in practice, at training camp, low balls I kinda struggled with a little bit,’’ Sindani mused. “When you’re 6-3, I guess it gets a little different.

“Guys in the NFL, even Eric here, low balls tend to be tough. You just gotta stay with it.”

After waiting awhile for this sort of statement opportunity, Arbuckle – the man thrust into the intense glare of the spotlight – couldn’t wait to share it.

“Man, you see guys like Klukas and Richie making the plays they did … so great. SO great,” he lauded. “Those are probably the two guys I worked most with last year. Kluke and Sindani were the back-up guys I’d be working out with before practice, after practice. Me and Klukas would be here at 5 a.m. some mornings.

“So to see him be the one to get to that onside kick, then Richie make the biggest play on that last drive – I made a low throw but he went down and dug it out – I couldn’t be happier.

“It’s not just me. For them to be able to step up and make those kinds of contributions to a big win, that makes this even more special.”

Asked if this might’ve been the wildest finish he’d been involved in at any level of the game, Arbuckle paused a moment.

“There’ve been a couple,” he reminisced. “Never coming off the bench. I remember a Bowl game my freshman year of college where we won in triple OT after a comeback. And my first game starting in Division 1, we were down two points and scored a long touchdown drive that got called back for holding, then we converted a fourth-and-19 to get us in field goal range to win.

“But this one …

“This is definitely one I’ll remember. For a long time.”