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Calgary Stampeders catch on early with success in CFL receiving game

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Jake Maier spreads ball around, Cam Echols makes stabbing grab in season-opening CFL victory

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Cam Echols hasn’t been here all that long.

But he already likes what he sees from the Calgary Stampeders.

Just as they like what they’ve seen from him early on in the 2024 CFL campaign.

“I feel like we have the best receiving corps in the league,” declared the Stamps’ first-year pass-catcher, who was on the catching end of a highlight-reel touchdown in Friday night’s 32-24 victory over the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

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“I’m not the only frisbee-catching dog out there, as you can see,” continued Echols. “We all catch all our passes. That’s just one thing we do. We catch the passes that are thrown to us.”

That was, indeed, the case in the season opener at McMahon Stadium, where the Stampeders receivers put on a show to get the year started off on the right foot.

As did their quarterback, who came into the schedule perhaps playing for his job.

“What I’ve said all camp …” said Echols, when asked what he saw of QB Jake Maier’s performance — a sparkling 21-of-26 for 252 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. “He’s a true warrior, a true gunslinger, a QB1.”

And a guy who sang similar praises of Echols and the rest of the receivers.

“I’ve said it all camp,” echoed Maier. “I think this is deepest group of receivers we’ve had in quite some time. So they all believe in themselves, and they all have the ability to make big plays for us.

“It makes my life pretty easy.”

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Yes … it’s only one game.

But it is a winning start — the biggest takeaway from the opener.

And the offence was terrific for the first three quarters of the contest, perhaps a sign of things to come for a unit that was marred by injuries and shortcomings throughout 2023.

Receiver Jalen Philpot runs for extra yardage against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Receiver Jalen Philpot runs for extra yardage against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Of course, it gets a bigger test than the Tiger-Cats in Week 2 come Saturday, when the Stampeders (1-0) visit the host BC Lions (0-1) in Vancouver (5 p.m., TSN, QR Calgary).

“It was a good start,” said Stampeders GM/head coach Dave Dickenson of the club’s triumph over the Ticats. “It’s going to be build on it, build on it.

“One game is just one game, so build on it and get better and take your game to that next level.”

Echols himself had a next-level moment in the opener, as he stabbed a second-quarter ball in the back of the endzone with one hand for the team’s first touchdown of 2024. It goes down as a seven-yard strike and arguably a key turning point for the franchise after last year’s ugly 6-13 record.

“It always feel better when you get a W,” said Echols, 29. “I just try to go out there and do what coach asks.

“It’s actually funny, because I dropped that exact pass just like that in practice,” continued Echols. “And just for me to go out there and catch that (in a game), that’s what I do — I make plays. But I’ve got to give it to the other 11 guys (on the field). I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for them.”

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Maier, for one.

And the five offensive lineman, to boot.

“I have one job — catch the ball,” Echols said. “But going back to my quarterback history, everything is easier when the offensive line is doing their job. It’s easier for us to do our job.”

And that job of Echols & Co. was done effectively throughout the evening.

Second-year hands-man Clark Barnes, who was praised post-game by Dickenson, enjoyed a night of six catches for 61 yards and an all-important fourth-quarter touchdown. The major registered as a 12-yarder but was another connection to the back of the endzone and was really an easy pitch-and-catch from Maier to Barnes.

In fact, the QB and his receivers seemed to be on the same page all night long — a welcome sight to see.

“We didn’t have the shortest field all night,” Dickenson said. “And when we did, we didn’t stick it in the endzone like we want to (settling for six René Paredes field-goals). But I felt like we were balanced — we were running and passing. We took some shots down the field, which is good. And I thought we were very efficient.

“I’d like to be a little bit more explosive, but we were very efficient.”

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All-star Reggie Begelton had four catches for 45 yards.

Fellow veteran Marken Michel made two grabs for 47 yards.

And newbee Echols handled three catches for 40 yards, with his TD the feature play of the tilt.

Also getting in on the passing action was third-year-receiver Jalen Philpot, with two grabs for 23 yards to set him out in the right direction after sitting out all of last year with a hamstring tear.

Running back Dedrick Mills caught two passes out of the backfield, and each of Cole Tucker and BJ Emmons hauled in one ball.

So Maier spread the ball around well, as the QB praised his play-caller — coach Dickenson — for directing a great show.

“I get lucky — I don’t have the (on-field) decisions,” said Dickenson, when asked about his hand in the offence’s success. “I just call plays and try to let the defence dictate where the ball goes. It’s always been that way as a player and a coach, and I think when Jake does that, we’re at our best.

“We caught the ball well,” added Dickenson. “We knew what we were doing. I thought we looked pretty fresh, and we played a bunch of guys. We had two guys leave with injuries, but we kept the production up.

“Now we need to continue that against BC.”

tsaelhof@postmedia.com

http://www.x.com/ToddSaelhofPM

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