Quarterback Nathan Rourke and the B.C. Lions are through to the second round of the CFL playoffs after downing the visiting Calgary Stampeders 30-16 in the West Division semifinal on Sunday.
Making his first post-season appearance, Rourke threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns, connecting on 22-of-30 attempts. Antonio Pipkin added 45 passing yards and a TD for B.C., and Sean Whyte hit three field goals, including a 41-yard kick.
Calgary’s Jake Maier also started in his first playoff game and made 12-of-22 attempts for 138 yards before being replaced by veteran Bo Levi Mitchell in the fourth quarter. Mitchell threw for 147 yards while kicker Rene Parades made three field goals.
The Lions will head to Winnipeg to face the Blue Bombers in the West Division final on Nov. 13. The East Division final will see the Montreal Alouettes take on the Argonauts in Toronto the same day.
The Grey Cup will be played in Regina on Nov. 20.
The two sides came in with identical 12-6 regular-season records but the Stampeders were plagued by penalties on Sunday, taking eight for 83 yards.
Whyte capped the final drive of the day with a 15-yard field goal to seal the score at 30-16.
Calgary made a late push, with Ka’Deem Carey appearing to punch in the Stamps’ lone touchdown with a one-yard run with a minute and 49 seconds to go. The play was overturned on review, with officials determining he had not, in fact, crossed the goal line.
The down was replayed, this time with Tommy Stevens as he muscled the ball into the end zone with a one-yard QB sneak that cut B.C.’s lead to 27-16.
The Lions put the game out of reach with just over three minutes left on the clock.
Rourke dished a seven-yard pass to Alexander Hollins, who rushed for an additional 22 yards and put B.C. in scoring position.
Rourke then waited patiently in the pocket for the right target and picked out Bryan Burnham in the end zone. The Canadian QB sailed a 10-yard bomb to the veteran receiver for B.C.’s third TD of the day. Whyte’s convert put the Lions up 27-9.
With less than 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Calgary opted to replace Maier with Mitchell in a bid to spark the offence.
The two-time Grey Cup champion drove his side to B.C.’s eight-yard line on his first possession before getting sacked. Parades finished the scoring drive with a 24-yard field goal, cutting the Lions’ lead to 20-9.
B.C.’s offensive line had difficulty at times protecting its QB on Sunday and midway through the third, Rourke was sacked for the fourth time. He recovered quickly and followed up by threading a 16-yard pass to Burnham through a pair of Stamps defenders.
The Lions capped the drive when short-yardage specialist Pipkin came in on third down. While being hauled to the turf, Pipkin put up a 20-yard toss to an unmarked Keon Hatcher, who sprinted 25 yards into the end zone for B.C.’s second touchdown of the game.
Whyte hit the convert and B.C. went up 20-6.
The home side took a 13-6 lead into halftime after a series of solid passes put the Lions deep in Stampeders’ territory.
Rourke connected with Burnham on a 19-yard toss, then sent a 25-yard bomb to Hatcher before capping the drive with a 13-yard rocket to Alexander Hollins deep in the end zone. The QB was hit hard as he let the ball fly but walked off the field on his own and was back for B.C.’s next possession.
Calgary’s defence forced a crucial fumble midway through the second.
Butler was dashing up field when he was swarmed and coughed up the ball as he fell to the turf. Jonathan Moxey collected it and took off in the other direction, giving Calgary a first down at the B.C. 47-yard line.
The Stampeders struggled to capitalize on the play and had to make due with a 28-yard field goal that levelled the score at 6-6.
B.C. went up 6-3 early in the quarter thanks to a 41-yard field goal by Whyte.
The two sides traded three-point plays in the first.
Rourke dished the ball to Butler midway through the frame and the speedster weaved 25-yards through traffic, putting the Lions in scoring position. Calgary stymied the ensuing push, though, and Whyte evened the game at 3-3 with a 15-yard kick.
The opening possession saw the Stampeders work their way steadily up the field and settle for a 32-yard Parades field goal on the game’s first scoring drive.
NOTES: Calgary took six penalties for 68 yards in the first half. B.C. had one for five yards. … Sunday marked the Lions’ first home playoff game since 2016 and the team’s first post-season appearance since 2018. The Stampeders made the playoffs for a club-record 17th straight season this year. … The last time two starting QBs made their playoff debut in the same game was Nov. 23, 2014 when Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary) took on Michael Reilly (Edmonton) in the West final.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press