Nathan Rourke and the B.C. Lions will get to know the Calgary Stampeders very well over the next few weeks.
B.C. (6-1) visits Calgary (5-2) on Saturday night in the first of three meetings between the conference rivals. The Lions return to McMahon Stadium on Sept. 17 before the two teams meet at B.C. Place Stadium on Sept. 24.
The Lions are in the midst of a stretch that sees them playing seven-of-eight games against West Division rivals. They’ve already secured wins over Saskatchewan (32-17 on July 29) and Edmonton (46-14 on Saturday) and will also face the Riders in a home-and-home series Aug. 19 and Aug. 26.
Six of Calgary’s next seven regular-season contests are also within the West Division, including the annual home-and-home Labour Day series with Edmonton. The Stampeders will also face first-place Winnipeg (9-0) on Aug. 25.
Rourke is coming off a record-setting performance against Edmonton, completing 34-of-37 passes for 477 yards and five TD passes. The 477 yards was a Canadian single-game record while the 91.2 per cent completion mark was also a CFL mark.
He also ran five times for 25 yards and a TD.
Dominique Rhymes had nine catches for 91 yards and three TDs versus Edmonton while Lucky Whitehead registered six receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Rourke currently leads the CFL in passing (2,418 yards), TDs (21) and completion percentage (81.3 per cent). The Lions are also tops in offensive points (35.7 per game), offensive TDs (31), net yards (447.9) passing yards (349.4), rushing TDs (10) and fewest sacks allowed (seven).
B.C. also sports a defence that’s tops against the pass (224.6 yards per game) and run (75.3 yards) and is allowing a league-low 279.3 net offensive yards per game. The Lions are also second in fewest offensive points surrendered (18.4).
Calgary is coming off a 17-3 win over Ottawa that was anchored by its defence. Defensive back Titus Wall had two interceptions, returning one 46 yards for the TD, to help the Stamps earn their first win in three games.
Veteran starter Bo Levi Mitchell finished 13-of-27 passing for 137 yards with one interception. Mitchell, twice the CFL’s outstanding player and a two-time Grey Cup champion, needs just six yards to surpass Henry Burris (32,191) as the franchise’s all-time passing leader.
Dedrick Mills ran for 100 yards on 16 carries for Calgary, which boasts the CFL’s top rushing attack (114.4 yards per game, 5.6-yard average per carry). Mills got the start ahead of injured incumbent Ka’Deem Carey, the league’s second-ranked rusher with 471 yards (stellar 6.5-yard average).
Carey didn’t practise Tuesday due to a hamstring injury.
Calgary was also minus head coach Dave Dickenson (COVID-19 protocol). Special teams co-ordinator Mark Kilam handled head-coaching duties against Ottawa but Dickenson will return to face B.C.
One of the many interesting matchups in this contest will be a B.C. offence that’s recorded a CFL-leading 16 completions of 30-plus yards facing a Calgary defence that’s allowed a league-low six 30-plus yard completions. Unfortunately for the Stampeders, veteran defensive back Tre Roberson (season-ending knee surgery) is out.
Montreal Alouettes versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Thursday night)
At Winnipeg, veteran receiver Greg Ellingson returns for the Bombers (9-0) after missing three games with a hip injury. Quarterback Zach Collaros threw two TD passes and Janarion Grant returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown to lead the West Division leaders to a 35-20 road win over Montreal (2-6). Starter Trevor Harris (back) didn’t practise earlier in the week but will start after completing 16-of-26 passes for 127 yards and a TD with two picks in last week’s loss.
Toronto Argonauts versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Friday night)
At Hamilton, Toronto (4-3) rallied for a 34-20 home win last week. Benoit Marion returned a blocked punt 24 yards for the TD as the Argos outscored their rivals 28-6 in the second half and 18-3 in the fourth. That’s been a recurring problem for the Ticats (2-6), who’ve been outscored 154-58 in the second half and 95-29 in the fourth this season. Both of the home team’s wins this season have come at Tim Hortons field but Matt Shiltz might start with incumbent Dane Evans nursing a reported shoulder ailment.
Saskatchewan Roughriders versus Edmonton Elks (Saturday night)
At Edmonton, the Elks (2-6) haven’t won at Commonwealth Stadium since October 2019, a span of 11 games. What’s more, they’re coming off a lopsided 46-14 road loss to the Lions last week. Saskatchewan (4-4) should be well rested coming off a bye week. The time off should benefit starter Cody Fajardo (knee), who’s 4-0 versus Edmonton. The Riders have also won their last three games in the Alberta city, including a 26-16 decision on June 18.
Last week: 4-0.
CP’s overall record: 29-6.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press