Bowling Ball on a roll

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

A rather exasperated gang of Stampeders defenders sat slumped at their stalls at one end of the team's locker-room in Ottawa, wondering what just hit them.

On the Frank Clair Stadium turf just a few steps away, Renegades running back Josh Ranek had just crashed his way to 164 yards rushing in a shocking 33-18 win over the downtrodden visitors.

While defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan was tearing out his hair over missed assignments that steamy night two months ago, swinging open the door for a pair of lengthy Ranek runs, the men charged with applying the muscle were left licking their wounds while looking forward to a second chance.

That reprieve comes in the form of a rematch tomorrow night at McMahon Stadium (8 p.m., TSN, subject to local blackout).

Everyone on defence has been working overtime this week to build a brick wall in front of Ranek, the little freight train generously listed at just 5-ft. 8-in., 205 lb.

As a key component of the Renegades' attack, Ranek's low profile poses a problem for tacklers.

Sidestepped Stamps linebackers plan a sharper tackling demonstration this time, says Creehan.

"I think he's very underrated," explains Creehan, whose defence is ranked fourth in the CFL against the run but allowed Ranek a 17.1-yard average in the opening half of the first meeting.

"People look at him and say, 'Ah, he's not that good.' Bull(crap). He's good. This kid is really good. He has big games against everybody he plays against but we can't let him do that to us."

If Creehan's emphatic support isn't enough, a quick glance at the CFL stats confirms the claim.

Ranek, 27, leads the league with 1,390 yards from scrimmage while he's third in rushing with 788, behind Winnipeg's Charles Roberts and Joffrey Reynolds of the Stampeders.

Stamps linebacker George White says the little tailback might not look dangerous until you step in front of him for a head-on collision. First contact is the key to stopping Ranek, suggests White, tied for third in the CFL with 66 tackles.

"You have to put a good lick on him early and slow him down a little bit," explains White. "He's a threat to any team. Any team has its hands full with him, not just us.

"He had two great runs against us last time that put them in great field position. He's a dangerous football player any time he touches the ball, a load to tackle.

"Not many guys get him on first contact and he just goes down. He's a hard-nosed football player every time he touches the ball. Their offence goes through him."

While the Renegades have floundered in recent weeks, falling to 5-7 and into a tie for second place in the CFL East, Ranek has continued his strong play. While he was overlooked by defences in his first campaign four years ago, his impressive numbers this season have been a revelation for the men paid to bring him down.

"He's a handful for everybody," Creehan says.

"If you look at the first game we held him in check for all but those two runs. That's what happens. If one guys gets out of his gap against that kid, he's going to take it to the house."

Ranek also caught five passes for 48 yards in the first meeting, used primarily as an outlet for QB Kerry Joseph to escape pressure.

"He catches slip screens and things like that anytime they get in trouble later in the game and the first thing they go to is the slip screen to him," says Creehan.

"He's tough to tackle, too. If we do what we're supposed to do, we can shut down any back but if guys guess or go to the wrong gap and make an error, you've got a problem. If you've got one gap open, he'll hit it."


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