Jake Maier aced his first test as a professional. The next one figures to be considerably tougher.
After leading the Calgary Stampeders to a much-needed win in his CFL debut, Maier will make his first road start Sunday night against the reigning Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Calgary (1-2) has endured a rocky return to play, dropping its first two games and losing quarterback and two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell indefinitely due to a fractured fibula. The Stampeders appeared on their way to another defeat last week against Montreal after falling behind 14-3 early in the second quarter.
Maier’s introduction didn’t begin well either, as the 24-year-old quarterback threw two early interceptions to contribute to the early deficit. He regrouped to lead the Stampeders to 25 straight points before Calgary escaped with a 28-22 victory with a goal-line stand in the final seconds.
The California native finished with 304 passing yards and a touchdown while getting strong support from receivers Josh Huff and Markeith Ambles, both of whom eclipsed 100 yards on the night.
“He knows he can play better, but as a first start that’s pretty impressive,” Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson said. “I called the game just like I had a vet in there.”
Maier’s next challenge will be a stern one. Winnipeg (2-1) has won 13 of its last 14 games at IG Field dating back to the 2018 season and boasts one of the league’s stingiest and most opportunistic defences. The Bombers are yielding a CFL-low 14.3 points per game and have forced nine turnovers through the first three weeks, and they’re the only team to hold opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate under 60 per cent.
“We’re playing a team that forces a lot of turnovers and prides itself on that,” Maier said. “So, just taking care of the football, be more efficient with your eyes and your progressions … those are things that I’m really trying to focus on this week.”
Winnipeg’s defence isn’t coming off one of its best performances, though, as the unit surrendered 310 passing yards to Toronto’s Nick Arbuckle in last week’s 30-23 road loss to the Argonauts. The Blue Bombers had problems on the other side of the ball as well, mustering a mere 32 rushing yards and going 2-and-out in half of their 14 possessions.
The offensive struggles helped Toronto build a decided advantage in time of possession, with the Argos holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
“We didn’t play clean enough football. I thought we made some mistakes,” Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “They put 13 (points) on us quickly in the first quarter … they started out hot and we didn’t. Didn’t get them off the field enough, didn’t stay on the field enough.”
These West Division rivals will be meeting for the first time since the 2019 conference semifinals, a 35-14 Winnipeg victory in Calgary. The Bombers also won both matchups held in Winnipeg during that regular season, though each was decided by two points or less.