CALGARY - Defensive end Robert McCune didn't like how his Calgary Stampeders played in the first half of Saturday's game against the Montreal Alouettes, so the former U.S. army soldier delivered a spine-straightening halftime speech.
"He spoke to the souls of everybody in this locker room," halfback Keon Raymond said.
"He called everybody on the team out. He said 'we're going to get out here, play after play after play we're going to hit them harder every play.'"
McCune's fire and brimstone delivery seemed to ignite the Stampeders as they came from behind to beat the defending Grey Cup champions 38-31.
Tied 31-31, Raymond's interception in the final minute of the game was the turning point. It set up a six-yard winning touchdown run for Calgary quarterback Henry Burris.
Calgary (6-2) strengthened its grip on first place in the CFL's West Division ahead of a crucial two-game series against Edmonton (5-3). The Stampeders, winners of four in a row, host the Eskimos on Labour Day and then head to Edmonton on Sept. 9.
The Alouettes fell to 5-3 and sit second behind the 7-1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the East Division. They're in Hamilton on Labour Day for the first of a two-game set versus the Tiger-Cats (4-4).
McCune, 32, had stints in Kuwait and Afghanistan during his four years of active service with the U.S. National Guard. The University of Louisville product joined the Stampeders last season. He's taking on more leadership duties, as evidenced by his oration Saturday when Calgary trailed 18-11 at halftime.
"I was kind of upset," McCune said. "I didn't like the kind of football we were playing the first half. I felt I needed to say it. It was just burning inside me."
Calgary native Johnny Forzani had the first two touchdown catches of his career and Ken-Yon Rambo had another for the hosts. Kicker Rene Paredes made all three field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Montreal's Jamel Richardson had a pair of touchdown catches and Brandon Whitaker caught one late in the game to tie it 31-31. Montreal kicker Sean Whyte was good from 37, 43 and 42 yards.
The game showcased the two best quarterbacks in the CFL over the last three years. Burris's 422 passing yards pushed him past the career 40,000-yard mark. He made 26 of 42 passing attempts and three touchdown passes.
Calvillo was almost as impressive. The CFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes threw for 369 yards, completed 28 of 49 attempts and threw three majors as well. His one interception late in the game was the only blemish on his performance.
"It's an unfortunate thing, a play like that especially so late in the game can just kill you," the Montreal quarterback said. "It's part of the deal, you take chances and you get the ball up and unfortunately it didn't work out for us."
Calgary beat Montreal at home to win the 2008 Grey Cup, but the Als have won the last two CFL titles. The Stampeders were expected to meet the Alouettes in last year's Grey Cup after a 13-5 regular season, but they were upset in the West final by Saskatchewan.
Kickoff at 2 p.m. local time was under sunny skies and a temperature of 26 C in front of 30,386 at McMahon Stadium.
The game marked the return of CFL all-star Dwight Anderson to Calgary after playing the previous three seasons as a Stampeder. The colourful and verbose halfback, who played cornerback for Calgary, isn't afraid to trash talk or show his emotions on the field.
Stampeder Nik Lewis mocked one of Anderson's post-play celebration gyrations in the fourth quarter to the crowd's delight. Raymond sought his former defensive teammate out after his interception.
"After, I ran right over there to him at the sideline, smiled at him and winked at him," Raymond said.
Anderson led the Als with six tackles, but it was a disappointing loss for an Alouettes team that controlled the game in the first half.
"There was a lot of plays we left out there and we know we can play better," Anderson said. "We'll go back and watch the tape and clean it up."
While Calgary's passing game was firing, their running game in the first half was abysmal. The Stamps couldn't manage a first down off the rush and ran for just eight yards. Burris had the most rushing yards at 29.
Forzani, whose father Tom and uncles John and Joe played a combined 25 seasons for the Stampeders, pointed to the sky after his first touchdown, which was a 15-yard pass from Burris.
He was honouring long-time friend Alex Conrad, a 25-year-old who died after falling off an escalator earlier in the week. Forzani, 22, wasn't able to attend the funeral Saturday because of the early game.
"It's really emotional," Forzani said. "That was for him and his family today. I was able to make some plays and I'm happy I was able to do it on an emotional week."
The two clubs changed leads three times in the second half before Whitaker's major and a Whyte convert deadlocked the game. That was in contrast to their five previous meetings when there wasn't a single lead change.
Notes: Lewis brought Montreal's Mark Estelle down hard on Estelle's fumble return in the first quarter and the cornerback did not return to the game . . . The Stamps and Als meet again Oct. 30 in Montreal.