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June 6, 2017

Lions make it exciting, but fall to Stamps in pre-season debut

BC Lions' Nate O'Halloran, right, tackles Calgary Stampeders' A.J. Cruz during CFL pre-season football action in Calgary, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders began their long road to redemption with a win on Tuesday night, topping the BC Lions 23-18 in the first pre-season game of the 2017 season.

Jacobi Green provided the game’s first touchdown midway through the second quarter while Derek Wiggan fell on a fumble in the end zone, giving the Red and White a 14-0 lead that wouldn’t be relinquished on a clear night at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium.

Canadian quarterback Andrew Buckley got the start for the Stampeders and went 6-for-8 for 59 yards but failed to generate any scoring in his bid for the second-string spot behind Bo Levi Mitchell. Mitchell Gale and Ricky Stanzi also took snaps for the Stamps as Mitchell, the reigning Most Outstanding Player, sat out.

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For the Lions, Keith Price took over from Jonathon Jennings late in the first quarter and completed nine of his 12 passing attempts, but also turned the ball over twice — including the fumble that led to a Stamps touchdown.

It was Alex Ross shining for the Lions, the rookie quarterback throwing a touchdown pass and almost leading the offence on a late game-winning drive, only to be thwarted on third down. The Lions added two late touchdowns to pull to within a score but it wasn’t enough as the Red and White held on for win No. 1 of the 2017 pre-season campaign.

The first quarter saw many new faces take the field for the first time with their new teams, including first round pick Danny Vandervoort who caught an 18-yard pass on the Lions’ second possession.

With both starting quarterbacks out of the game, it wasn’t until 9:05 of the second quarter that anyone got on the board when rookie international back Green went 35 yards for the game’s opening score.

Minutes later, Jameer Thurman recorded one of his two sacks in the game, leading to a fumble and score by Wiggan to make it 14-0.

Ty Long’s 46-yard field goal late in the frame was all the Lions could muster, cutting the deficit to 15-3 heading into halftime.

The second half, much unlike the first, started out fast. It was a 53-yard kickoff return by Terry Williams to start the third quarter and then, taking advantage of the short field, Reginald Begelton finishing with a 25-yard catch-and-run for the major.

Begelton, who chipped in with five catches for 88 yards, left the game with an apparent knee injury in the fourth quarter.

Images: Pre-season gets under way in Calgary

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Travis Lulay later came in and injected some life into the Lions’ offence, completing four straight passes after entering the game midway through the third. But the Stampeders’ defence had BC’s number all night, again forcing the Lions to punt the football for the 10th time in the game.

The fourth quarter came down to a pair of CFL newcomers at quarterback as Alex Ross took the field for BC and Ricky Stanzi for Calgary. And both showed their struggles early as the Stamps were forced to conceded a safety while Ross was intercepted by his namesake on the Stamps’ side in Joel Ross.

The Lions pulled within two scores when Josh Harris ran for a 38-yard touchdown, part of an impressive evening for the rookie 26-year-old running back.

After a Rob Maver single, the Lions struck again on a 40-yard score as Ross and RJ Harris connected to cut the Lions’ deficit to five.

With 2:12 left in the game, Alex Ross took the field with a chance to lead the Lions from behind. The rookie quarterback, having led two straight touchdown drives, started with a first down run, then moved the sticks again with a throw across his body for a 21-yard pickup.

Ross continued to thread the needle, marching the Lions inside the Stamps’ 50 with the clock down to a minute left. But the Lions’ valiant comeback effort eventually fell short when Montario Hunter was stopped just shy of the first down, sealing the deal for the Stampeders.

While Buckley, Stanzi and Gale compete for the second-string job, neither of the three stood out but it was Buckley leading the field with a 75 per cent completion rate.

Green, who scored the game’s opening touchdown, finished with 63 yards and a touchdown on eight carries for the Stamps.

Josh Harris had a game-high 78 rushing yards for the Lions while Maurice Morgan’s 54 yards on three catches led BC’s receiving corps.

The result moves the Stampeders to 1-0 in the pre-season and the Lions to 0-1. BC will take on Saskatchewan on June 16 to conclude the pre-season while the Stamps will be back in action on Sunday in a visit to Commonwealth Stadium.