November 3, 2020

10 Plays that Made a Champion: Denting Bo’s Armour

Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Nikola Kalinic chases Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nick Taylor during first half football action in the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

It had been a relationship with an inglorious history, one which dates back to Bo Levi Mitchell’s first-ever Canadian Football League start.

Rewind to July 26, 2013 and Mitchell – then the Calgary Stampeders third-string quarterback behind Kevin Glenn and Drew Tate – was thrust into action in a game against the Blue Bombers right here in Winnipeg.

And by the end of the night this then-unknown pivot had shredded the Bombers by completing 29 of 33 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-24 win over the home side.

As fans everywhere now know that was simply the first chapter for Mitchell, a sure-thing Canadian Football Hall of Famer who has routinely eviscerated defences all across this land.

So, it was with that knowledge – plus the Bombers horrible history at McMahon Stadium – which served as the backdrop when the club arrived in Calgary for the West Semi-Final last November.

Yet, by the end of that frigid afternoon in the Calgary foothills the Bombers had not only slayed the Stampeder dragon, but dented the armour of the knight riding it as Mitchell completed just 12 of 28 passes for 116 yards with one touchdown and three – THREE – interceptions.

We selected the second of those three picks, by Nick Taylor with just under 10 minutes remaining in a 35-24 Winnipeg victory, as entry #3 in our ‘10 Plays That Made A Champion’ series.

“Look, Bo’s legacy is already ridiculous,” began Taylor. “Going into that game we knew it was just so hard to win in Calgary. But that week Brandon Alexander had said how close they were the year before in the (2018) West Final and this year wasn’t going to be the year where we went there and folded in Calgary.

“Our defensive coordinator and defensive back coach – all our defensive coaches — came up with a heckuva game plan. We didn’t want to show our hands to Bo early, so we tried to disguise or hold our look – make every defence look the same so that hopefully he would get confused. That was the main thing.

“And after that it was just about grit, about being tough and fighting for everything because, as you know, it didn’t start off too well for us.”

So true, for the Stamps opened with a touchdown on their first possession and were ahead 14-8 at halftime. Given Mitchell’s resumé as the winningest quarterback in CFL history – and the fact he had passed for almost 700 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception in two earlier games in the year against Winnipeg – and it wasn’t difficult to picture the same old movie playing out again.

“At the beginning of the game it was, ‘Ah, man… here goes the same old, same old story again’,” said Taylor. “But there was that interception Mike Jones got (late in the first quarter) that could have gone either way and after we got that it started to change the whole complexion of the game and it just rolled that way from then on.”

The Jones’ pick was Mitchell’s first mistake, followed by two in the fourth quarter – Taylor’s interception, followed by a Mercy Maston pick on the Stampeders’ very next possession with less than seven minutes remaining.

“I remember we were bringing pressure,” began Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall of the Taylor interception, “and I don’t know if it was a miscue with the quarterback or the receiver, but Bo threw the ball as though the receiver was running a curl route, but he was still running up the field.

“We were able get after him all day whether we were bringing pressure or just bringing four, and I think he was rattled, to be honest with you. Bo doesn’t like to get hit and he got rid of the ball quick and Nick was where he was supposed to be and he make a great play.”

Thanks to a weird scheduling quirk, Bombers had played the Stamps in back-to-back games to finish the regular season and then, following a bye in the final week of the schedule, were lining up against them in the West Semi.

“Regarding the gameplan… the guys did a great job of executing whatever our call was. They were very disciplined, they played with a lot of confidence,” said Hall. “JY (defensive backs coach Jordan Younger), (defensive assistant) James (Stanley) and (former front seven coach) Glen Young did a great job of scouting them. Really, we were studying them for about a month.”

The Stamps were also clearly aiming to attack the field side of the Bombers secondary – opposite CFL all-star corner Winston Rose and West All-Star Marcus Sayles. That side featured Taylor, Maston – both scooped up by the Bombers during the season after their releases from Edmonton – and Jones, a CFL rookie.

“People talk about it… you can never replace experience,” said Hall. “And that doesn’t mean you have to have 10 years of experience. Mercy and Nick both understand the CFL and offences and how to play.

“They were also comfortable playing together, rather than going out there and playing by themselves. These guys came in and they had a confidence level. It was, ‘I can do this. I’m going to do this, because I’ve seen this before.’ Then they just went out there and played.

“Even though they were new to us, they weren’t new to the game.”

And by the end of the game not only did Mitchell look completely frustrated, the Bombers had punched their ticket to the West Final in Regina as the collective confidence level received a massive boost.

“Seeing Bo frustrated like that was crazy,” said Taylor. “It doesn’t happen many times, so you enjoy it when it does.

“That day… oh my God… the cold was ridiculous. Everything was frozen and it was one of the coldest days I’ve ever been a part of. And then when it started off the way it did you’re like, ‘Man, we’re losing again here and it’s this cold?’ Then it starts turning around and the weather doesn’t seem so bad. It becomes like a warm day.

“I think a part of it was just being tired of always going there and not winning. Everybody had the mindset of was, ‘let’s just find a way.’”