The B.C. Lions defence excelled throughout the 2012 CFL regular season — but stumbled when it mattered most Sunday.
The Lions surrendered four touchdowns — three on long passes and one on a goal-line stand — as they were upset 34-29 by the Calgary Stampeders in the West final.
B.C. couldn't stop underdog Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn, who guided the Stamps to 478 yards in net offence.
The 12-year CFL veteran is known for staying in the pocket and keeping his scrambles to a minimum, but the Lions couldn't sack him once.
The loss prevented the Lions from becoming the first pro team anywhere to win a pair of Grey Cups with two different coaches after Mike Benevides took over from Wally Buono, who remains the club's general manager, in the off-season.
"When you take a look at this, the reason you do this is for championships and to win," said Benevides. "And whenever you don't win the last game, it's tremendously disappointing. I told those guys I appreciated what they did and how hard they worked, and I'm disappointed for them because you play to win the championship and this is absolutely disappointing."
After finishing the regular season with a league best 13-5 record and earning a first-round playoff bye, the Lions were behind almost immediately. Glenn caught the B.C. defence on a blitz on Calgary's second play from scrimmage 59 seconds in, connecting with receiver Marquay McDaniel on 68-yard touchdown.
'I told those guys I appreciated what they did and how hard they worked, and I'm disappointed for them because you play to win the championship and this is absolutely disappointing.'—Lions head coach Mike Benevides
The embarrassing moment came after the Lions allowed a league-low 356 points against during the regular season. Linebacker Adam Bighill blamed the early gaffe on miscommunication.
"That's uncharacteristic of how we play defence," said Bighill, who was coming off an outstanding season where he registered 104 tackles and nine quarterback sacks.
"We're all about playing sound fundamental defence, where everybody does their job and right there [on the first Calgary touchdown], one person's not on the same page, you can see what happens."
B.C. defensive back Korey Banks managed to draw the Lions even on a sensational 77-yard interception return and three Paul McCallum field goals left the Lions down just 17-16 at halftime. But the Stampeders gave themselves breathing room when Glenn hit receiver Romby Bryant for a 57 yard touchdown 5:22 into the third quarter.
An unsuccessful goal-line stand just over five minutes later effectively sealed the Lions' fate. After Calgary backup quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell found Maurice Price for a 42-yard gain, it appeared as though the Stamps receiver had just enough momentum to get to the end zone.
After a Calgary challenged the spot of the reception, the officials' replay determined Price was downed at the one-yard line, giving the Stamps three chances to punch the ball over from short distance. The Lions defence came up big as Banks and Bighill, respectively, kept Mitchell from the end zone in the first two attempts.
The Lions then appeared to have stopped the Stamps on third-and-one, but the officials signalled Mitchell had scored to put Calgary up 30-16.
Benevides threw a challenge flag to request a replay review, but with Calgary kicker Rene Paredes preparing to kick for the extra point the officials allowed play to continue and did not conduct a review.
"I really thought it was a stop and threw the flag on the ground knowing I [couldn't] challenge because it looked like they went right into the [convert] and I asked [referee Kim Murphy] and Kim said it had been reviewed in Toronto," Benevides said. "Certainly from my look, it didn't look like it was a good go, but I couldn't do anything at that point other than try to make sure that it was reviewed, and Kim told me it was."
The Lions rookie head coach agreed with veteran cornerback Dante Marsh's assessment that it was a "wasted season."
After the team was picked by many to repeat as Grey Cup champions, the Lions had lived up to the high expectations.