November 30, 2014 - 10:43 AM
VANCOUVER - Flying under the radar suits the Calgary Stampeders' defence just fine.
The CFL club led the league with 511 points scored in 2014 thanks in large part to the play of first-year starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and standout running back Jon Cornish.
But players on both sides of the ball largely credit Calgary's defenders for helping the team to a 15-3 regular-season record as it prepares to take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Sunday's 102nd Grey Cup.
"I think that's part of being on a good team," said linebacker Juwan Simpson. "You've got a young quarterback in Bo Levi who's just come in and is playing tremendous. You've got Jon Cornish, who's won every award possible.
"You kind of get overshadowed, but it's OK. We feel like defence wins championships — offence is not going to like that — but we feel like defence wins championships. We're a humble group."
Cornish, who was named the CFL's top Canadian for the third straight year despite playing just nine games, said the defence gets recognized in Calgary's locker-room.
"Our overall record speaks for itself. We would not be 15-3 were it not for our defence," said Cornish. "We had a few games that were purely defensive struggles. I appreciated every single one of those guys on the team because we have five or six guys that played 18 games on defence and that's really hard to do. It speaks to these guys' will to win."
Calgary was fifth in the league in yards against per game (351.6), but needed to be sharp early as the offence ironed out some wrinkles, including a 10-7 slugfest against Hamilton on July 18.
"They got all the credit at the beginning of the year, which they deserved," said Stampeders head coach and general manager John Hufnagel. "When you're playing with a young quarterback and we're not lighting up the scoreboard — early in the year points were scarce for every team — our defence played very, very well.
"When you win a game 10-7 you know your defence did pretty good."
Calgary finished sixth against the pass (239.7) and third versus the run (94.4), but was No. 2 in points allowed at 347 under first-year defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler.
The Stampeders have been without star defensive lineman Charleston Hughes for most of the season because of injury, but Shawn Lemon stepped up to fill the gap with 13 sacks to finish tied for second in the league.
The Stampeders were also solid in the secondary, with defensive back Jamar Wall's six interceptions tying for the CFL lead.
"They played strong, especially at the beginning of the year," said Hufnagel. "As the season's gone on we've had to fill in here and there, but they've been steady. They've been on the field at critical points late in the game and made plays to help us win."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2014