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Steady Stamps take tight season-opener

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CALGARY — In the end, Job No. 1 was accomplished: the Calgary Stampeders won their 2010 Canadian Football League season opener Thursday.

And, yet, many of the 29,333 fans who showed up on a glorious Canada Day evening might have left McMahon Stadium vaguely dissatisfied with what they saw.

The Stamps’ offence struggled to score points. The special teams gave up a punt-return touchdown. Highly touted rookie returner Deon Murphy fumbled three times. Simply put, just not a lot of fine-tuning, but still good enough to win.

And fans can thank the right foot of rookie kicker Rob Maver, who had a terrific pro debut, and a stifling, crushing defence – both key factors in the Stamps gutting out a 30-16 win over the Toronto Argonauts.

Maver was good on five-of-six field-goal attempts on Thursday, and made three big kicks in the fourth quarter – from 14, 17 and 32 yards – after the Argos had crept to within one point.

And yet it was the 42-yarder he missed that had Maver less than satisfied after the game.

“I was hoping for better,” said Maver. “I wanted to make all of my kicks. I wouldn’t call it good, I have to make that other kick.”

Stamps coach John Hufnagel, though, was very satisfied with what he saw out of his first-round draft pick.

“Our rookie kicker proved he could play in this league,” said Hufnagel.

As for the defence – well, it’s early, but that was a very impressive performance, holding the Argos to just 228 yards of total offence.

Never more so than in the fourth quarter after Calgary running back Jon Cornish fumbled and gave the Argos the ball at the Calgary 27. But on second-and-five, middle linebacker Juwan Simpson, who was a force all night, stuffed a scrambling rookie quarterback Cleo Lemon for a one-yard gain, and forced the Argos to settle for a field goal.

“It takes all 12 guys to win,” said Simpson, making his first start in the middle after failing to stick at defensive end and outside linebacker. “I’m very happy. We played assignment football, and I think we just did a great job out there.”

To cap it off, Wes Lysack’s safety blind-side blitz inside the final minute hammered the ball loose from Lemon, and linebacker Malik Jackson scooped up the ball and rumbled 41 yards for the insurance touchdown.

Nothing came easily for the Stamps in the first half; while they had the advantage in yardage and time of possession, they had real issues getting into scoring position (a familiar story at this time of year for most teams, although it didn’t seem to be an issue in Regina, did it?).

Maver’s 17-yarder opened the scoring (long-snapper Randy Chevrier gathered up the football to present to the first-round draft pick), and the Stamps made it 10-0, taking advantage of a Keon Raymond interception and making the Argos pay with Joffrey Reynolds’ one-yard touchdown plunge; he finished the night with 116 yards.

The Argos hung tough, though. Lemon, making his CFL debut, showed some flashes, and gained confidence as the half went on. And near the end of the half, he put together a solid drive, highlighted by a nice 46-yard strike to slotback Brandon Rideau. He completed the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jeff Johnson, but the Argos botched the convert and trailed by four heading into the locker-room.

The Stamps finally put something together later in the third quarter; thanks largely to a splendid 28-yard catch from Romby Bryant, the Stamps got close to pay dirt, and proceeded to nearly blow the opportunity thanks to back-to-back procedure calls to Edwin Harrison and Dan Comiskey. Maver salvaged something out of the foray into Argo territory, connecting from 31 yards; he added a rouge, going wide right on a 42-yard attempt that had plenty of leg.

But the Argos got right back into it in an awful hurry; early in the fourth quarter after yet another Stampeder drive stalled, Chad Owens, acquired during training camp for a fourth-round pick from Montreal, ran the ball down the Stampeders’ throats, returning a poorly placed Burke Dales punt 90 yards for a touchdown to cut the Stamps’ lead to one (remember that missed convert?).

Those three Maver fourth-quarter treys all but sealed the deal.

“The guys battled hard right to the end,” said Burris, who finished 27-for-40 for 324 yards. “Their defence was tough, and they made us earn every inch.”

The Stamps will have a rundown today, then will take the weekend off before beginning preparations for their two-game swing to Ontario, which kicks off July 10 in Hamilton and continues four days later in Toronto when the Stamps and Argos complete their season series.

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