There will be no doubt in the Western Semi-Final who the Roughriders need to stop to have success.
And it’s vice versa for the Stampeders.
Both teams have a three-headed monster on offence. Darian Durant and Drew Tate are similar quarterbacks; great instincts, good arms and able to extend the play with their running ability.
Calgary’s Jon Cornish led the CFL in rushing yards; number two on that list is Roughriders running back Kory Sheets. Both scored 11 rushing touchdowns to lead the league this season.
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Weston Dressler was fifth in receiving yards but first with 13 touchdown receptions, and his Calgary counterpart Nik Lewis is fourth and third in those same categories.
Knowing you need to stop those players is one thing. Actually doing it is another.
“You have to. You have to come ready. You have to have the boxing gloves on and step in that ring,” notes Roughriders linebacker Tyron Brackenridge.
He was tasked with stopping Lewis at portions this season and feels he’s better prepared to face the brusining receiver in their fourth matchup than he was in his first.
“He’s like a pit bull and you just have to be ready to fight and let it play out.”
Lewis lit up the Riders for three touchdowns in their first meeting, adding 98 yards. He had a total of 90 yards in his next two games against Saskatchewan.
While the Riders had success in stopping Lewis, they forgot about Jon Cornish in the second meeting. Cornish ripped off 159 yards and controlled the clock in the Stamps’ 17-10 win at Mosaic Stadium in Week 9.
The next day, the Roughriders brought in veteran middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn, who will suit up in his first career playoff game Sunday.
“We have to stop Jon Cornish. I mean he’s a great player and that’s my job. It’s my job to stop the run and I will do that.”
The next time the Riders faced Cornish, it came with a highly publicized guarantee from Rider Head Coach Corey Chamblin that the team would not allow Cornish to get over 100 yards, or someone would lose their job.
The Riders held Cornish to 69 yards, no touchdowns and also won their only game against Calgary this season.
The defence doesn’t need a guarantee this week, nor will they get one, Chamblin admitted on Wednesday.
“I don’t need anybody to say it’s a guarantee or to guarantee we stop whoever we are playing against. It’s my guarantee,” noted Lobendahn.
“That’s just my mentality. You know I want to stop the run and I want them to run the ball so I can make a play. It’s fun for me.”
One thing Lobendahn has added to the defence is another level of intensity that is filtering through the lineup.
“We all feed off him so with his intensity, with Odell (Willis), with Tearrius George, with guys like that you have no choice but to match their intensity and it just gets us going,” admits Brackenridge.
The Riders nominee for defensive player of the year has also felt some stability in the middle of the defence since Lobendahn came on board.
“He’s been a huge part of this defence. He’s a veteran player and he knows where he needs to be and when it comes to the run, he’s there. He’s an excellent addition to our defence and put our defence on a whole other level.”
Of course, Lewis and Cornish they’ve faced this season. They can’t say the same for Drew Tate.
Kevin Glenn started all three games for the Stamps against the Riders. He was outstanding with eight touchdown passes and just one interception.
Despite the success against Saskatchewan, Stampeders Head Coach John Hufnagel has a hunch that Tate will succeed in the playoffs.
But the one thing the decision has not done is distract the Roughriders, or at least that’s not what they’re letting on.
“We just have to focus on what we have to do,” says Lobendahn.
“We’re not going to be worried on what they’re doing. We just have to be on our ‘A’ game and bring everything.”
Although Tate is starting, that doesn’t mean they won’t be ready for a Glenn sighting. As we’ve seen before in the playoffs, it’s sometimes not who starts but who finishes that ends up being the story.