It was bound to be a collision of serious proportions. The B.C. Lions had won four of their last five games; the Calgary Stampeders had won five of their last six.
The Lions boasted a defence tougher to shake than a New Year's Day hangover. The Stampeders passed and dashed and scored 30 points in their last outing. Something had to give.
Turned out it was the Stampeders' defence and punt team that took it on the chops in front of 29,929 at McMahon Stadium.
In a Saturday night game that saw the Lions take the lead and never look back, it was a pair of second-half plays that settled the 32-19 final. The first happened late in the third quarter. After battling back to within five points, the Stampeders were undone by a failed punt.
B.C. receiver Paris Jackson blocked a Burke Dales' punt and Lions' fullback Tim Cronk picked up the football and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. That made the score 25-13 at the end of three quarters.
The second dagger in the Stampeders' heart came in the fourth quarter when B.C. receiver Arland Bruce took a Travis Lulay pass and ran 41 yards for the touchdown.
"It was a lack of attention to detail," said Calgary coach John Hufnagel. "Getting the punt blocked, moving the chains back when we made a play, allowing them to stay on the field when we took penalties – when you're in a tight game and you lose control it, it always comes down to turnovers and penalties."
It was thought the game would come down to a clash of strengths - the Stampeders' explosive offence against a Lions' defence that hadn't surrendered a touchdown since the third quarter of their Aug. 13 game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That shutdown streak extended through the opening 30 minutes of Saturday's game.
But with B.C. leading 18-6 after a 48-yard touchdown catch by Akeem Foster, the Stampeders became the first team to score a touchdown on B.C. in 62 offensive drives over 15 quarters. Delivering the major was Larry Taylor on a 15-yard pass from quarterback Henry Burris that pulled Calgary to within 18-13.
The Stampeders added a second, albeit meaningless, touchdown in the final three minutes on a Drew Tate one-yard quarterback sneak.
Defensive back Keon Raymond said the Bruce touchdown, soon after having a punt blocked, was the double fault Calgary couldn't past. Bruce, who has been ineffective at times since being acquired in a trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, was thrilled to have contributed to the B.C. victory.
"It's a team game. Every time you play on special teams, offence or defence, you feel good," Bruce said. "As a professional athlete, I don't think I'm ever going to lose, whether I'm cooking or running to my car, especially in pro football. I don't think I'm ever going to lose."
The first half began as slowly as ketchup coming out of a bottle, with neither team looking as if it was going to run away clean. Burris' first pass was intercepted by the Lions' Dante Marsh. On his third possession, Burris was hit late and had to come off with an ankle injury. He returned on Calgary's next offensive series, rushed twice and had the ball slip out of his hands for a 13-yard loss.
"It (his ankle) was throbbing the whole game," said Burris, who passed for 184 yards. "(The hit) came out of nowhere. We had some momentum going then that took some out. It was just a disappointing game."
The Lions managed the only decent drive in the first half, covering 58 yards on six plays. A Calgary pass interference penalty gave B.C. a first down at the Calgary 13-yard line. Two plays later, fullback Rolly Lumbala crashed into the end zone for the touchdown, his first of the season.
The Lions' Paul McCallum kicked a 48-yard field goal giving him 22 in a row so far.
"I was really pissed off because people keep downplaying the last few wins," said Marsh, whose Lions defeated the Toronto Argonauts in back-to-back games and are now 5-6. "It's not our fault. They're professional football teams, Toronto has good players. Saskatchewan has good players."
And now the Lions are proving they have share, in time to make a run for the playoffs.