Lions down Stampeders to open 2023 CFL season
CALGARY — Vernon Adams Jr. and Dominique Rhymes clicked early for the B.C. Lions in a 25-15 win over the Calgary Stampeders to open the CFL season Thursday.
Rhymes caught two touchdown passes and totalled 100 receiving yards in the game.
He picked up where he left off in 2022 when his 1,401 yards ranked second among CFL receivers behind Winnipeg's Dalton Schoen and earned Rhymes a league all-star designation.
B.C.'s quarterback was efficient early Thursday.
Adams threw for 176 yards in a pair of touchdown drives — one on B.C.'s first possession of the game and the other in the first minute of the second quarter.
He capped those drives with throws to Rhymes in the end zone.
"It's the work we've been doing as a whole offence together," Rhymes said. "When they give me opportunities to make plays, I've got to make plays for him.
"He's our quarterback and he's our leader and I want to be the best person I can be for him, so I can make our offence successful."
Adams was effective with his feet as well as his arm.
The quarterback rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries and also ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
B.C. kicker Sean Whyte's 44-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining put the game out of reach for the Stampeders.
"Starting fast was big," Lions head coach Rick Campbell said. "It's a 60-minute game, but playing Calgary here is tough.
"If they get momentum early, it's really hard. You fight an uphill battle. It was good to get ahead on the scoreboard and Vernon and our offence was a big part of that."
Tre Odoms-Dukes caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Jake Maier for Calgary's lone touchdown in front of an announced crowd of 17,942 at McMahon Stadium.
Calgary's Rene Paredes kicked three field goals on five attempts.
He missed his first two from 39 and 45 yards, but was successful from 22, 39 and 52 yards.
Adams completed 27 of 35 passes for 270 yards and two touchdown throws in the game. He was intercepted by Mike Rose.
The Lions acquired Adams, a 2019 CFL all-star, from the Montreal Alouettes midway through last season when Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke was injured.
With Rourke now property of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, the Lions looked to the 30-year-old Adams to lead their offence.
"I am feeling a lot more comfortable than I was last year getting thrown in the fire," Adams said.
Maier struggled in Thursday's first half in completing just seven of 15 passes for 56 yards.
The 26-year-old was under pressure several times and sacked late in the second quarter by Mathieu Betts.
Maier finished 20-for-36 in pass attempts for 154 yards and a touchdown pass. He was intercepted once.
"There's no excuses," Maier said. "I'm never going to be an excuse guy.
"We didn't play that well, especially on offence in the first half and we're on to Week 2."
Calgary's Ka'Deem Carey, the CFL's leading rusher last season, ran for 42 yards on seven carries.
B.C.'s defence held top Stampeder receivers Reggie Begelton and Malik Henry to a combined 58 yards.
The Lions generated more first downs than the Stampeders over the first three quarters.
"We've got to stay ahead of the sticks, meaning we can't be a second-and-long team," Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said.
"We weren't able to necessarily give Jake the extra time to make that extra read, make that extra play.
"It's early. I'm not going to beat them up. I understand what it is. Look in the mirror. We've got to be better. Coaches as well."
Paredes' field goal from 52 yards late in the fourth quarter pulled the hosts within four points of B.C., but Whyte's 44-yarder sealed B.C.'s victory.
The Lions and Stampeders both posted 12-6 records in 2022.
B.C. downed Calgary 30-16 in last year's West Division semifinal before falling 28-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the division final.
"Last year, we went to the game before the final, so we know what type of team we have," Lions defensive back Garry Peters said. "We came into the camp a lot further ahead.
"We have a lot of veteran guys, so that's just a testament of what type of team we have and that's what we put on the field today."
The Stampeders next face the host Ottawa Redblacks in a second straight Thursday night game to open their season.
The Lions are at home against the Edmonton Elks on June 17 with a pre-game concert by LL Cool J scheduled for B.C. Place
Campbell hopes bringing a win home from Calgary adds to the home-opener buzz.
"We're trying to do our part on the field," Campbell said. "Hopefully we get a huge crowd next week."
Notes: The Stampeders had nine rookies in their game-day lineup, including three receivers, compared to seven for the Lions . . . Since the CFL returned to a nine-team league in 2014, Calgary is 4-4-1 and the Lions are 4-5 in season openers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.