Labinjo leaves Leos in his Wake

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Cameron Wake. Who's Cameron Wake?

Oh yeah, he's the B.C. Lions defensive lineman who was supposed to make all the difference in the West Final.

A defensive lineman was the difference maker in yesterday's 22-18 tilt at McMahon Stadium.

It was Mike Labinjo.

As performances go, Labinjo proved you don't need a paw print on your helmet to be an impact player. A horse can have game.

When the dust cleared on the Calgary Stampeders victory that means a trip to the Grey Cup, Labinjo's night concluded with a game-high eight tackles, three quarterback sacks and one forced fumble.

Those numbers don't include his two biggest plays.

Calgary was already down by a field goal early in the second half, looking at a Lions first-and-goal from the one-yard line after Korey Banks returned an interception to the shadow of the goal line.

First down: Labinjo stops Lions running back Ian Smart a yard behind the line of scrimmage.

Second down: Labinjo does it again to Smart, this time for a two-yard loss.

Lions have to take the field goal, and instead of riding a 10-point lead, only have a six-point edge, that the Stamps offence almost immediately overcame.

Those plays by Labinjo were the difference. It ended up a four-point victory.

They were ...

"Huge," shot out running back Joffrey Reynolds.

"They get the ball on the one, and they get three points? In the CFL, when you get a yard off the ball?

"Are you kidding me? That was huge."

It was a resounding sentiment throughout the Stampeders locker room.

"Probably the play of the game," said Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel.

"Forcing them to kick that field goal and keep it that type of game not only gave the defence momentum but also the offence."

Calgary's offence, moribund to that point, scored on its next three possessions.

Labinjo and the rest of Calgary's under-rated defence knew that was the time to come up big.

"I was kinda upset off the way things were going. I knew I wasn't gonna let anyone block me and our defence knew we weren't gonna let anyone in the end zone," Labinjo said.

"We knew if B.C. scored that could have drained our team, so we knew we had to step up, make the play and hold them to three points."

Funny, for all the notoriety the Lions defenders have, Calgary's defence led the league in most key defensive categories.

Putting a stamp on yesterday's game that way was a big move to earn praise.

"All year, our defence wasn't getting the credit that was due," Labinjo said.

"We took it upon ourselves, especially with B.C. doing all the trash talking and them getting all the all-stars, we wanted to come out and prove we're the number-one defence for a reason."

Considering how Calgary's offensive stars didn't find the gearbox until the second half, the defenders had to be that good.

They kept the Leos to six field goals. That's a lot of trips to the red zone without any touchdowns.

A few of those field goals are replaced by touchdowns, and it's a one-sided defeat for the Stampeders to digest.

"We never panicked," said linebacker JoJuan Armour. "Even though our offence started slow, we know they're gonna move the ball. They always do. So we knew if we just do our job, continue to not allow touchdowns, sooner or later it'll come around."

Maybe now, the Stamps defence will receive the credit it's due.

"Probably not," Armour said. "We've been under-rated and haven't got the credit we deserve all year, but that's a good thing. That just makes the chip on the shoulder bigger."

Careful now, though, they don't want too much praise looking toward the Grey Cup.

"You can't worry about the media," said tackle Eddie Freeman.

"The media knows nothing about football, just write reports.

"If I was a fan and knew nothing about football, I'd say B.C. is the best team, B.C. won the division, B.C. is number one in a lot of defensive categories.

"But Calgary is number one in a lot of defensive categories, Calgary had the best team.

"They're paper champions, got all the Hulk Hogan billboards, and we're just a no-name defence, a bunch of good, old boys that just want to win a championship. You don't need to know our names."


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