Smoke from northern Alberta forest fires blanketed Calgary and Environment Canada’s air quality index rated the city high risk for most of the day.
If and when the game would go ahead was in question. But the thick haze began dissipating two hours before the scheduled kickoff, which was pushed back 30 minutes to allow more time for the air to clear.
“I didn’t have any concerns at all,” Stampeder head coach Dave Dickenson said. “Honestly I thought it was a nice night. The smoke just cleared.
“I know we’ve got to follow the rules and protocol and all that, but I think there’s something to be learned that the weather in Calgary, don’t try to predict it.”
The defending Grey Cup champions had contributors on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Nick Arbuckle scored on a one-yard carry, Gerald Holmes rushed for a three-yard touchdown, Griff Whalen caught a touchdown pass and Anthony Gore scored a 34-yard interception touchdown.
Gabe Ferraro kicked field goals from 26 and 32 yards and Rene Paredes was good from 14 yards.
The Stampeders also benefited from timely defensive plays including a touchdown-preventing tackle by DaShaun Amos, a Gump Hayes interception and a Kevin Prosser sack, as well as Gore’s pick for a touchdown.
The game marked the first meeting of Dave and Craig Dickenson as CFL head coaches.
Dave has coached the Stampeders for three seasons, while Craig was named head coach of the ‘Riders in January when Chris Jones left for the NFL.
“I have no clue what my pre-season record is and I don’t think Craig should worry about it either,” Dave said.
“It didn’t shock me that we were the better team. We had our full team here and I thought our vets played well. The full couple series we were moving it. You could tell we had a full roster.”
“It was certainly a team win. It’s pre-season. You can’t read too much into that, but I’d rather be on that side of the score than the other end.”
Saskatchewan left key starters at home including offensive linemen Philip Blake and Brendon Labatte, defensive end Charleston Hughes, as well as all-star defensive tackle Micah Johnson, who was a Stampeder for six seasons before signing with the Roughriders in the off-season.
“The first half I thought we were relatively competitive against some of their top guys,” Craig Dickenson said.
“I felt like the third and fourth quarters, they were just going up and down on the field on us and we couldn’t do anything in response.
“Yeah, I recognize we left some good players at home, but we need some of these guys in this locker room to step up.”
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the CFL’s most outstanding player last season, played Calgary’s first two series completing three of five pass attempts for 84 yards.
Arbuckle threw for 131 yards the rest of the half, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Whalen.
Montel Cozart took over to start the third quarter throwing for 122 yards before he was relieved by Troy Cook midway through the fourth.
Cook rushed for eight yards and threw a pass for seven.
Saskatchewan’s No. 1 pivot Zach Collaros didn’t play in the game. Cody Fajardo started going 10-for-12 in passing for 73 yards and rushing for 30.
He marched the Rider offence to Calgary’s doorstep in the second quarter, but the Stampeders defence held firm and forced a turnover on downs.
Fajardo gave way in the second quarter to David Watford, who went 8-for-12 for 65 yards. Watford was picked off by Hayes attempting to throw to find Kyron Moore in the end zone in the third quarter.
Isaac Harker then took a turn taking snaps going 5-for-10 for 54 yards. Ty Gangi finished the game and was intercepted by Gore on his lone pass attempt.
Saskatchewan is at home to Winnipeg next Thursday before starting the regular season on the road against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on June 13.
The Stampeders close out the pre-season next Friday in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions before their opener June 15 at home against the Ottawa Redblacks.
Stampeder defensive end Folarin Orimolade left the game in the first quarter with a quadricep injury and did not return.