Uphill battle

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

The steadily improving Stampeders like to think, when playing their best, the team is ready to battle the CFL's heavyweight champs.

At some point this season, maybe, but it appears they're not in shape for a title shot just yet.

If last night's 39-31 loss to the still undefeated, undisputed West Division champion B.C. Lions is an indication, the 3-4 Stampeders might eventually be scrappy contenders but for now they need more work.

The Stampeders' four first-half turnovers -- leading to 17 B.C. points - underlined that fact.

Stamps receiver Gerald Harris started the ball rolling the wrong way with an early fumble that Barron Miles returned to Calgary's one-yard line as the Lions opened a 14-3 lead.

"It was kind of a snowball effect," said Harris, a former Lion signed by the Stamps earlier this season, who caught three passes for 49 yards last night.

"First one of the night and then to come so close and lose by just one touchdown ..."

One-third of the way into the season, the rebuilt Stampeders franchise is impressing with its progress and that should have the team fighting for a playoff spot this fall.

Last night, the Stamps eagerly teed off against the CFL's top cats, convinced they can knock off unquestionably the loop's most polished squad.

Some had hoped the Lions were a team ripe for an upset.

One theory painted the Lions as fat and sassy -- even complacent -- ready to finally fall after bolting out of the gate to one of the fastest starts in franchise history. That early record includes dumping the Stampeders two weeks ago in Vancouver and a pair of wins over the Toronto Argos, the defending Grey Cup champions.

The Lions, Harris pointed out, are in a class by themselves and proved it again last night.

"We left a lot out there, could have done more," Harris said in the Stampeders sombre locker-room. "We're still learning but you have to take every opportunity you can against a team as good as them. I know how good they are.

"That's why for me it's an especially bitter loss but they're a good team. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. They're a very experienced team and they know what to do when the game's on the line and they did it. It's the little things. It could have been just one turnover against them tonight and that might have been enough to lose."

Running back Joffrey Reynolds also coughed up a fumble late in the game, struggling for extra yards with the Stamps battling for the victory.

"The fumbles were the story right there," Reynolds said.

"In my situation, I was trying to make something out of nothing, fighting for yards and not taking care of the ball.

"To lose by eight points with five turnovers ... we didn't give ourselves a chance early on -- 14 points off turnovers early on, that's the difference in the game right there."

While Lions pivot Dave Dickenson put together another stellar effort, completing 12 first-half passes in opening a 31-10 lead through 30 minutes, the Stampeders were much less impressive.

Stamps QB Henry Burris improved as the night wore on, posting his fourth consecutive 300-yard passing game, but turnovers and shoddy defensive play sealed the team's demise.

Burris' fumble at midfield in the second quarter allowed Chris Wilson to rumble for the Lions' third TD and a 21-3 lead and provided the Leos with a crushing advantage.

"Every team we step on the field against, we feel we can beat," Burris said.

Feeling it and doing it are still worlds apart.


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