Tate-to-Lewis looks like Stampeders' key combo

Nik Lewis. (QMI Agency)

Nik Lewis. (QMI Agency)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 PM ET

CALGARY - Their final drive of the game was good for the win.

Their final drive of the first half was good for the confidence.

Long before Calgary Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes split to uprights to have the last word in Friday’s 33-31 pre-season win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium, starting quarterback Drew Tate put an exclamation point on 30 minutes of inconsistent offence with a surgical scoring drive just before halftime, highlighted by a 22-yard touchdown toss to slotback Nik Lewis.

“Yeah, that was a big one. That was a big one for everyone,” Tate admitted after the outing. “It worked out. Nik made unbelievable catches, and the offensive line gave me time to find him. That was big.”

The Stamps’ first-team offence was far from flawless in their final tuneup for Canada Day’s home-opener against the Montreal Alouettes at McMahon Stadium (5 p.m.).

However, their last possession of the first half was by far their best of the night. In fact, it was probably the Stamps’ most impressive offensive sequence of the pre-season.

Taking the first snap just across midfield with 1:04 left before the local fans could load up on Pilsners at the break, Tate connected with Lewis for a 14-yard gain, moving the chains after the star slotback lost his grip on the football but watched the fumbled pigskin skip out of bounds.

The next strike was a six-yard shortie to Romby Bryant, followed by a 10-yard hook-up with Lewis for another first down.

Tate called No. 82 again in the next huddle, spotting his workhorse for that 22-yard touchdown pass over the middle.

“We moved the ball a little bit better this week than we did last week (in a late pre-season win over the visiting Edmonton Eskimos),” said Stamps head coach John Hufnagel, who removed Tate and several other sure-thing starters at the half Friday night. “At the beginning of the game, we stalled a little bit and didn’t get the ball in the endzone. Fortunately, we did at the end of the first half. I think that was the Drew Tate-Nik Lewis show.”

Stamps fans wouldn’t mind seeing that show on a continuous loop this season.

Unless you’ve been too busy tracking your Facebook stocks, you might’ve heard a thing or two about a new offensive era at McMahon Stadium.

With Henry Burris traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Tate enters the season as the undisputed starting quarterback.

The club’s all-time rushing leader Joffrey Reynolds lost his job to B.C.-born ball-carrier Jon Cornish and is now searching for work.

And with the departure of veteran receiver Ken-Yon Rambo, Lewis is the last remaining big name from a star-studded pass-catching corps that celebrated a Grey Cup title together in 2008.

While some of Lewis’ buddies have been replaced, the hard-hitting, smooth-talking slotback will be a big part of the Stamps’ attack again this summer.

Tate finished 13-of-21 for 174 yards in Friday’s victory, with 100 of those yards gained by Lewis on six first-half connections. Tate was also picked off once, with Riders defensive lineman Brent Hawkins getting his gloves on a ball that bounced off Lewis’ fingertips — and to be clear, there’s not much the receiver could’ve done differently on the play — in the first quarter.

“I still got it, huh?” Lewis said with a wry grin. “I don’t know about this fumbling the ball out of bounds thing, but I guess I’ll figure that out soon.”

Everybody is excused for a couple of mistakes in the pre-season.

Tate, who was critical of his own performance in the exhibition opener against the Edmonton Eskimos, seemed more satisfied with the offensive execution in Friday’s contest, although he would’ve preferred if Paredes wasn’t needed for six field-goal tries.

“I think that this is the best we can be right now, in reality,” Tate said.

On Friday’s final possession of the first half, it certainly looked that way.

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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