Strong case for the defence

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Now we know why John Hufnagel closed practice all week: To hide the only thing that could possibly overshadow his quarterback -- his defence.

Lining up with 10 new starters under rookie head coach John Hufnagel, the Calgary Stampeders defence made a stirring debut last night by dominating the Grey Cup favourites in a 28-18 win.

"Those guys answered a lot of questions this week," said quarterback Henry Burris of a no-name defence many showed up to watch closely.

"Give them credit."

Retooled by Hufnagel and new defensive coordinator Chris Jones following a season in which the Stamps were defensive bottom-feeders, the revamped bunch exceeded any expectations fans could possibly have had.

Facing a veteran B.C. Lions offence spearheaded by Buck Pierce the Stamps came up huge all night long.

To wit:

In the first quarter, they allowed just three first downs.

In the second quarter, they recorded four sacks, including a Juwan Simpson blast that eventually ended Pierce's evening.

In the third, the Lions had no first downs and were limited to a punt single.

In the fourth quarter, with the Lions still within reach, Calgary stopped B.C. on third and four at midfield, trumped only by Dwaine Carpenter who responded to a late Lions interception with one of his own two plays later to seal the win. All this with three key starters out of the game with first half injuries, including middle linebacker Saleem Rasheed, Funtaine Hunter and Simpson. Hufnagel said the preliminary reports on their injuries were not good.

"I thought we responded well to the injuries the defence had and we plugged some holes," said Hufnagel, who counted on even more rookies to step up under intense pressure.

"On the defence, you saw a lot of speed, aggressiveness, flying to the ball -- they didn't give up and they were a force."

While Miguel Robede and Mike Labinjo stood out throughout the evening, it was a massive group effort that had over 30,000 fans pleasantly surprised.

"It was night and day from what people were used to and what we were used to around here," said Stamps veteran safety Wes Lysack.

"Lots of guys flying around and having fun. As soon as something negative happened, (new defensive coordinator Chris Jones) said 'next play'."

Carpenter's interception was a perfect example.

"There were a lot of plays that we probably would have folded last year, but this time we moved forward," said Carpenter, whose club looked to be losing momentum just before the half when the Lions got within 17-10 with a late score.

"It was very key for us to stop them early in the second half and we did to take away their momentum."

Burris was solid, piecing together four touchdown drives of 55 yards or more.

And while his 274 yards passing was impressive, he used a revamped offensive line to help scramble on three separate occasions for key first downs.

And when his ability to bolt wasn't keeping the Lions off balance, the different looks the Stamps offence threw their way did.

It also became clear Ken-Yon Rambo will be Burris' main man on offence this year, hauling in eight passes for 136 yards including his 13th major in his last 12 games.

However, the story on this night was the same one that prompted Hufnagel to close practices all week -- the young defence.


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