- Free Agency
THE CANADIAN PRESS
CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders face no shortage of potential playoff scenarios heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
But most important to the Stampeders is heading into the CFL playoffs on a winning note.
Calgary (10-7) entered into the final week of the regular season tied atop the West Division standings with Edmonton and B.C.
But the Eskimos (11-7) beat Saskatchewan 23-20 on Friday night to secure a home playoff date, meaning the Stampeders need to beat Winnipeg then have Montreal beat B.C. later Saturday night in order to get second place in the West.
B.C. and Edmonton both won the season series against Calgary, which is the tie-breaker should teams end up with identical records. The Lions, however, can cement top spot in the West with a home win Saturday night over the Alouettes. If the Lions win, Calgary finishes third regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
But if everything goes right for the Stamps, they’ll host the Lions in the conference semifinal.
“It’s going down to the wire,” said defensive back Brandon Smith, Calgary’s nominee for most outstanding defensive player. “That’s what makes the CFL so exciting.
“You never know which team can pull it out. It brings more excitement to it. Everyone has to play their last game. There’s not too much resting players. Everyone has to fight it out all the way to the wire.”
Winnipeg (10-7) also has plenty to play for. A win over Calgary will secure the Bombers the top spot in the East Division and a bye to the conference final. Montreal would then host third-place Hamilton in the semifinal contest regardless of how the Alouettes fare in Vancouver.
The only way Montreal would finish atop the East is if Winnipeg lost and the Alouettes beat the Lions.
“Certainly we want to control our own destiny,” Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice said. “Every team in this league has tried to do that the past couple of weeks and struggled with it.
“It shows the parity of the league. Calgary is a talented team but we feel we are too. We need to play our best game and take care of first place on our own.”
Calgary coach/GM John Hufnagel has focused on getting his team ready to face the Bombers, rather than looking at the big picture.
“It’s going to be a game played by two very good football teams with a lot at stake, so it should be a great day,” Hufnagel said. “Our concentration is on trying to prepare as hard as we can to win this game and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Hufnagel said Calgary will definitely be wary of a Winnipeg defence that leads the CFL in sacks (54) and is tied with Edmonton for the most interceptions with 24.
“They’re a team that creates a lot of turnovers so we have to take great care of the football offensively,” Hufnagel said. “In my mind, it’s going to be a game of field position, so when we do get field position we’ve got to make sure we come out with something.”
Calgary quarterback Drew Tate, 2-0 since replacing Henry Burris as the starter, is also wary of Winnipeg’s defence.
“Defensively, they have all-around team speed and are very aggressive,” Tate said. “It’s definitely a challenge for us, but this is what we wanted and it’s up to us to go out there and take it.”
Meanwhile, Alex Brink will start for the Bombers in place of Buck Pierce, who suffered a knee injury in Winnipeg’s 27-22 loss to the Toronto Argonauts last weekend.
“We certainly know the task at hand,” Brink said. “We know what we have to do. We had a good week of practice and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
LaPolice has confidence his young quarterback can handle the pressure.
“This will be a grand stage,” LaPolice said. “He will prove his worth to his teammates and put his team in position for us to get first place.
“We’re comfortable because he’s played a lot. It’s not like putting in someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience.”
Smith said Calgary’s defence won’t be looking past Brink.
“We know Brink is a good quarterback,” Smith said. “He can come in and run the offence the way it needs to be ran.
“In our past, backup quarterbacks have been some of our weaknesses. We have to go out there and prepare just as well as we’re playing any other starting quarterback.”
The first snowfall of the season greeted the Stampeders when they took to McMahon Stadium for their walk-through Friday morning.
“Saturday’s) forecast is supposed to be just great weather for football,” predicted Hufnagel, noting he and his coaching staff will be prepared to adjust their play calling in case of inclement weather.
Added Smith: “We’ll just have to go out and put the weather behind us. It’s supposed to be chilly, but hopefully we won’t get anything falling from the sky. That’ll be good.”
Tate said the Stampeders can’t let the weather be a distraction or an excuse.
“It’s Canada, it’s November, it’s expected,” he said. “We just have to go out there and execute.”
If the weather turns bad, running backs Chris Garrett of the Bombers and Jon Cornish of the Stampeders could be factors in the outcome.
“I think it’s natural to use your running game more when the weather’s a little bit worse,” Brink said. “If it’s windy or whatever it is, those things are all important in offensive football.
“But we’ve got to be able to throw the ball and get first downs throwing. We’re all comfortable with that.”