VANCOUVER — The BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders each put a berth in the Grey Cup on the line on Sunday afternoon, as they meet for the fourth time this season at BC Place in Vancouver.
If momentum plays a major role when it comes to playoff football, then this year’s Western Final might just be impossible to predict.
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The Stampeders appeared to have all of the momentum a team could ask for after surviving a last-second scare against the Roughriders as thrilling as any.
After surrendering a two-score lead late in the fourth, Calgary’s young gunslinger Drew Tate fired a 68-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Romby Bryant, reclaiming the lead with 19 seconds remaining and booking a ticket to the Western Final.
But just as the Stamps appeared be riding a tidal wave of confidence and swagger into Vancouver, the team announced that Tate had a fractured forearm that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.
And as quickly as Kevin Glenn lost the starting quarterback position, despite a 10-5 regular season record, he’s been given the keys to the car once again.
“I know exactly what he’s going through,” said Glenn, now in his 12th CFL season. “It’s very emotional.”
Glenn knows because he’s been that guy before. Rewind to 2007, and the image of Glenn – then a Bomber – being helped off the carpet of the Rogers Centre, his left arm broken in the late stages of a 19-9 Eastern Final win over the Argos.
Then fast forward a week as he stands helplessly on the sidelines, trussed up in a sling as the Ryan Dinwiddie-directed Winnipeg Blue Bombers fall 23-19 to Saskatchewan in the 95th Grey Cup.
“You’d have to actually experience it to understand the significance of how emotional it really is. So, yeah, of course I feel for the guy.”
“Some people think ‘Ah, it’s just a game’. But the chance at a championship, man, it’s something that doesn’t come along often in a player’s lifetime,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the greatest never have the chance to win one – even the chance to play in one.”
Tate threw for 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns, earning his first career playoff win in just his second opportunity. Surely, he was looking forward to the chance to keep the ball rolling, and move Calgary to the 100th Grey Cup game in Toronto.
“To get this close, to have an opportunity to get there, to be the guy everybody’s turned to and then have the rug pulled out from underneath you,” continued Glenn, “it’s very tough.”
Tate is only now discovering what Glenn knows first-hand.
On a dizzying week out at McMahon Stadium that has produced high on-field drama; the news Thursday that Tate actually suffered a broken bone in his right forearm during last Sunday’s Semi-Final win against the Riders and is gone for the season came as a jarring capper.
Meaning Glenn, the league’s best contingency plan, at 33 trying to have that first elusive Grey Cup ring sized, is back with his name atop the marquee this weekend at BC Place. And, the Stamps hope, beyond.
“Drew, Kevin, we know what they’re both capable of,” said slotback Nik Lewis defiantly. “And that’s taking us the distance.”
Given Glenn’s success in his injury-necessitated promotion to starter for 15 games this regular season, in the minds of most in Calgary, the quarterbacks are virtually interchangeable. Both have their strengths. Each have their advocates.
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“Tate is our guy, the face of our franchise, no question,” acknowledged rush end Anwar Stewart. “And I’m sad for him. But when he went down, Glenn came in a did a great, great job. He’s not going to miss a beat. He’s gonna go out and lead because he’s been doing that all year for us.”
No question, Glenn can slip into this role as easily as into a pair of comfy old slippers. He’s had more sequels than the Rocky franchise.
“Hey, it’s not as if we haven’t been through this before,” Stewart reminded everyone. “We overcame it before. So it’s going to be a good outing.”
The wily veteran has proven time and again that he can be trusted.
It’s safe to say that every team has momentum – the question is whether positive, or negative. The kind of momentum the Stamps have might be up to Glenn himself.
Who are the Calgary Stampeders? Are they a team that just lost their starting quarterback for the season – or a team that just rallied to win a thrilling playoff game over a tough division rival at home?
There’s uncertainty about momentum, for the Lions, too – a team that hasn’t played a meaningful game in the standings since just the second week of October.
They were blown out on the road by Calgary, back on Oct. 26, while Travis Lulay returned for the first time in almost a month in the season finale, a meaningless game against the Roughriders in which each team rested several starters.
How can rookie Head Coach Mike Benevides and the Lions simply turn the switch back on, and reach the intensity needed to defeat a team that hasn’t lost since Oct. 6?
One thing that won’t hurt will be getting many veteran bodies back in the lineup, after surviving an injury scare over the final month of the regular season.
Veteran slotback Arland Bruce is one of those players, after being cleared to play earlier this week following a head injury that sidelined him for five weeks. He’s hungry and eager to make up for lost time.
“I’m like a lion in a cage, you’re right on point with that,” said Bruce. “Quietly, though. I’m not saying I’m going to put up 200 yards, but I can’t wait to get back.”
Not everyone might state the matter quite as colourfully, but getting back is one of the biggest issues heading into Sunday’s contest.
Four offensive starters and five mainstays overall have also been out, whether through injury or suspension, and though they still had plenty to spare when it came to securing top spot in the division, the Lions haven’t been quite the same since.
|Who’s going to win?|
The CFL.ca writers have made their prediction on both the Eastern and Western Finals.
Benevides feels the two-week break has enabled his team to regroup, but until they step on the field, he admitted, he won’t completely be assured the timing is all back.
It’s critical with the receiving corps, where Bruce and Geroy Simon try to complete a game together for the first time since Sept. 22, and where Nick Moore will debut this season as a short-side wideout, having again moved ahead of Ernest Jackson and Courtney Taylor.
It’s also critical, said Benevides, on the defensive line, where Khalif Mitchell and Eric Taylor hope to last longer than the 10 snaps they played together in the regular-season finale. The two tackles haven’t been together for any length of time since mid-September.
“It’s more the relationship than the coordination, the way we bonded together to make certain plays,” Mitchell said of Taylor. “You don’t lose camaraderie, but we need to run to full speed.”
Timing isn’t also an issue in the eyes of Lulay, who hasn’t exactly been overburdened with work as a result of his Oct. 12 shoulder subluxation.
“The most comforting factor is that this is the group that played together the most all season,” Lulay said.
Of course, no sooner was there a growing sense of comfort in the other area where cohesion is king when right guard Dean Valli, who has been bothered by a knee bruise, couldn’t finish practice Thursday and was replaced by Jesse Newman.
That prompted Benevides to virtually assure Matt Norman of a roster spot Sunday and to wonder if there’s any way to avoid the injury bug the Lions had almost beaten, with the possible exceptions of Jon Hameister-Ries and Jason Arakgi.
“This week is way too damn long,” Benevides said.
Soon, the waiting game will be over for both teams. And as soon as it is, it’ll all come down to who can make more plays – and of course, who can seize momentum in a battle of two teams that you know will be going hard until the very last whistle.