Smoke, rain, thunder and lightning wreaked havoc on the CFL’s pre-season opener at McMahon Stadium on Monday.
Following two separate delays — one due to poor air quality from area wildfires and the other because of a lightning storm — the Calgary Stampeders eventually emerged with a 29-24 win over the Edmonton Elks.
“It was just a weird day,” said Calgary coach Dave Dickenson. “It started off with some smoke and are we delaying this and that? And then here comes the storm. We were lucky. We were in (the dressing room) at half. Sometimes I think it’s good for these guys — something different, something you can’t control and how you’re going to react.
“It was a bit of a sloppy game, I thought. Ultimately, a lot of things we can coach and improve upon and I still like the win. Ultimately, it still worked out fine.”
Auditioning for a job as Calgary’s second- or third-string quarterback behind starter Jake Maier, Logan Bonner threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Luther Hakunavanhu to start the fourth quarter.
“I was just taking what they gave me and just doing my job,” said Bonner, who admitted to taking a quick nap during the lengthy halftime break due to lightning strikes in the Calgary area.
“The safety kind of got back and saw the out and the corner was kind of sitting on it and Luther was running by ’em. I just tried to give him a nice easy ball and a good angle in and it was a touchdown.”
Bonner then engineered a seven-play, 70-yard drive that was capped off when Ryth-Jean Giraud ran across the goal line for an eight-yard TD.
“He looked good,” said Dickenson of Bonner. “He sat back for about four hours and then he finally got his chance. I thought (quarterback) Chris (Reynolds) did good, too. I was a little more disappointed with our starting group. I didn’t think we did anything special at all. In fact, I thought they basically took it to us early.
“Vets, the young guys are coming, so you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to go out there and show.”
Clarke Barnes and Hakunavanhu caught touchdown passes for the Stamps, while Rene Paredes and Campbell Fair each kicked one field goal.
Maurice Ffrench and Gavin Cobb had receiving touchdowns for the Elks, while Dean Faithfull kicked three field goals and a single.
“You always want to win,” said Ffrench, who led all receivers with 10 catches for 119 yards. “Taking that loss, it kind of bothers me a little bit. We were out there with no vets, so we’ve got a lot of growth that we can make and a lot of mistakes that we can improve and correct.
“We knew that they were going to be starting a lot of their vets, so we definitely competed with them to have a whole bunch of guys who are new to the CFL, including myself.”
According to a statement from the league, the start of the game was delayed by 30 minutes due to smoky conditions from Alberta wildfires and additional time was needed to monitor the air quality and to ensure both teams had ample time for warm-ups.
“The decision to delay the game in consideration of the weather protocol was made by the league, both competing teams and the CFLPA,” read the statement.
The game started shortly after 2:30 p.m. local time after it was determined the air quality index was at an acceptable level for the athletes.
After a scoreless opening 15 minutes, the Elks took a 3-0 lead at 4:43 of the second quarter thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Faithfull.
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The Stamps responded at 9:37 when Paredes booted a 39-yard field goal.
Edmonton quarterback Jarret Doege then capped off a four-play, 70-yard drive by throwing a 45-yard TD strike to Ffrench to put the visitors up 10-3.
Although the Stamps were forced to punt after their next drive stalled, Branden Dozier made a superb special-teams play when he stripped the ball from returner CJ Sims and recovered it on Edmonton’s 26-yard line.
On the next play, quarterback Tommy Stevens tossed a 26-yard pass to Clark Barnes in the end zone to tie the score at 10-10.
Faithfull then missed a 34-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. Although his kick sailed wide right, the ball went through the end zone for a single to give the Elks an 11-10 lead.
Shortly after the players returned to their locker rooms, the game was delayed once again due to a nasty storm that featured heavy rains and lightning strikes in the area surrounding McMahon Stadium.
Fans were advised to seek shelter in the concourse until such time that it was deemed safe to return to the stands, but several of the announced crowd of 17,942 headed straight to their vehicles and left the parking lot of the stadium.
After an approximate 90-minute delay, the second half started at 5:15 local time under cloudy skies.
Faithfull booted a 23-yard field goal at 7:38 of the third quarter to put the Elks up 14-11 before the Stamps pulled to within one point once again at 11:30 when Fair connected for a field goal from 42 yards out.
The Stamps started the fourth quarter with great field position and Bonner — Calgary’s fourth quarterback of the game — capitalized by promptly throwing a TD to Hakunavanhu. After Dedrick Mills ran in a two-point convert the Stamps led 21-14.
Giraud added his rushing score a short time later before punter Toshiki Sato added a 59-yard single for the Stamps.
Cobb rounded out the scoring when he caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Elks QB Kai Locksley with just 15 seconds remaining in the game.
The Elks will host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday in pre-season action, while the Stampeders will visit Vancouver on June 1 to play the B.C. Lions.
By Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press