By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – All Bo Levi Mitchell does is win.
He led Katy High School to a Texas state title in 2007, then four years later helped Eastern Washington capture the NCAA Division I FCS national crown. On Sunday night, Mitchell added the Grey Cup to his impressive football resume.
Mitchell completed 25 of 34 passes for 334 yards as the Calgary Stampeders earned a nail-biting 20-16 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at B.C. Place Stadium. The 24-year-old pivot was named the MVP in his first career Grey Cup start.
Hamilton’s Andy Fantuz was the top Canadian with six catches for 81 yards as the Ticats dropped their second straight Grey Cup game. The team lost 45-23 in Regina last year to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and last won the CFL title in 1999.
At one point, Mitchell threw 10 straight completions, tying him for the third-longest streak in Grey Cup history before a boisterous B.C. Place Stadium gathering of 52,056 â€” 1,423 short of a sellout.
Being named the MVP after leading a team to a pro football championship is something Mitchell dreamt about growing up.
“Not necessarily the Grey Cup (MVP) because I didn’t know about it,” Mitchell said. “But once I knew about it this is what I was going to go after.
“Being able to quarterback this team and look back that we were one of the best teams in the history of the CFL is amazing.”
Fantuz gave Mitchell kudos after the game.
“He had a hell of a game,” the Chatham, Ont., native said. “He was elusive and slippery and hard to bring down.
“You’ve got to give him credit for his poise and demeanour. They were the class of the league, the most consistent throughout the year. We still feel like our team is a championship team but this is their year.”
But the West Division champions needed two late defensive stands and some luck to secure their first Grey Cup title since 2008.
A Delvin Breaux interception of Mitchell put Hamilton at the Calgary 50-yard line. Quarterback Zach Collaros marched the Ticats to the three-yard line before the Stampeders’ defence stiffened, resulting in Justin Medlock’s 17-yard field goal at 9:25 of the fourth quarter to pull to within 20-13.
Hamilton regained possession at its 41-yard line with under four minutes remaining and marched to the Calgary 23. Cory Mace’s sack stalled the drive and set up Medlock’s 37-yard field goal to cut the Stampeders’ lead to 20-16 with just over two minutes remaining.
Brandon Banks brought Ticats supporters to their feet with 35 seconds left when he returned a Rene Paredes punt 90 yards for a TD, but it was nullified by an illegal block penalty. Instead of having the lead, Hamilton took over at its 12-yard line.
After the game, Banks stormed out of Hamilton’s locker-room before the media was allowed in. When a reporter tried to speak to him, Banks kept walking but turned around to say “I ain’t talking to nobody.”
But Mitchell was more than willing to praise Calgary’s defence for twice holding Hamilton to late field goals when the Ticats seemed poised to take the lead.
“That defence is the best in the league and I’ll tell you why,” Mitchell said. “No matter what those guys are so knowledgeable and know so much about this game.
“They might give up plays, they might give up yards but at the end of the day we’re going to win because of that defence.”
It’s been a rapid rise for Mitchell, who joined the Stampeders in 2012 as their No. 3 quarterback behind Drew Tate and veteran Kevin Glenn. After Glenn left the Stamps in December, Mitchell secured the starter’s job in training camp and won 13 of 15 starts in guiding Calgary to a CFL-best 15-3 record.
Mitchell threw for over 3,300 yards and completed 63.3 per cent of his passes with 22 TDs â€” six behind league leader Ricky Ray of the Toronto Argonauts. He also threw just eight interceptions, the fewest among CFL starters.
At just 24, Mitchell appears to be Calgary’s starter for years to come.
Running back Jon Cornish, who earned a third straight rushing title this year with 1,082 yards in nine games, wasn’t a factor Sunday with just 25 yards on nine carries. But he was impressed by his young quarterback’s calm demeanour in the biggest contest of the year.
“Bo Levi has poise like I’ve never seen a person his age have,” Cornish said. “He just sat in there and did exactly what we needed.
“We didn’t get many points in the second half, they adjusted their defence around a little. But we finished and got the win.”
Hufnagel also praised Mitchell.
“He played well, he played lights out,” Hufnagel said. “He made the one mistake but we didn’t move the ball enough in the fourth quarter and that wasn’t the quarterback’s fault.”
Calgary earned its third straight win this season over Hamilton, which after a 1-6 start to the season rallied to a 9-9 mark to finish atop the East Division.
Paredes had to handle punting duties in the second half after incumbent Rob Maver suffered an abdominal injury when hammered on a Hamilton punt return. The six-foot, 201-pound Maver was hit from the blindside by Justin Hickman, a six-foot-two, 265-pound defensive lineman, and remained on the field for some time before eventually walking off on his own.
Maver celebrated with his teammates on the field after the game but was moving gingerly. He wasn’t overly impressed with Hickman’s hit but praised Paredes, who averaged over 42 yards on his three punts.
“It was Hickman?” he asked. “If he’s got to hit a punter like to make a block . . .
“But Rene was huge coming in.”
Calgary also lost receiver Maurice Price to a second-half ankle injury.
Hamilton was looking for history to repeat itself as in 1999 it beat Calgary 32-21 at B.C. Place. But the loss tarnished a solid showing by Colloras, who finished 25-of-33 passing for 342 yards and a 45-yard TD to Banks.
Backup quarterback Drew Tate had two TDs for Calgary. Paredes added the converts and two field goals.
Medlock booted a convert and two field goals.
A blocked field goal by Calgary’s Demonte Bolden loomed large as Calgary took a 17-7 halftime lead. The burly defensive lineman, in his first game since breaking his leg in September, batted down Medlock’s 26-yard try with the Stampeders leading 14-0.
Mitchell countered by marching Calgary 87 yards on eight plays, setting up Paredes’ 11-yard field goal at 12:43. But Collaros found a streaking Banks at 13:39 to make it a 10-point game.
It was a dreadful opening quarter for Hamilton, which posted -12 yards rushing and just four net yards. Calgary had 120 net yards, thanks to Mitchell’s 117 passing yards.
Members of the Stampeders receive $16,000 for the win while the Ticats earn $8,000 apiece.
Juwan Simpson worried he may be handing over some of that cash after the Grey Cup broke while he was hoisting it over his head in celebration.
“I think I’m the one that did it,” said Simpson. “I don’t know. I grabbed it and was excited, and all of a sudden, it got a little (loose.) Some glue and some duct tape and it’ll be good.
“But I got me a Grey Cup cheque,” he said. “In a worst-case scenario, I can pay for it.”