CALGARY -- Two of the CFL’s hottest teams are set to do battle on Friday Night Football, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hit the road to take on the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium.
Two quarterbacks at opposite ends of the spectrum go head-to-head, as Bo Levi Mitchell gets the call for the Stampeders in relief for the injured Kevin Glenn, looking to improve to 3-0 in just his third career start.
Ticats’ pivot Henry Burris on the other hand is a long way removed from his third career start, as he will go under centre to begin a game for the 179th time in his career on Friday night with a chance to make CFL history.
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Burris needs just 217 passing yards to reach 50,000 in his career, which would make him just the fifth quarterback ever to do so, joining him with the likes of Danny McManus, Damon Allen, Ron Lancaster, and Anthony Calvillo.
With his sights set on the lofty milestone as well as the team’s sixth win of the season, the 38-year-old hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down – something that’s caught the attention of Burris’ former team, including young Mitchell.
“Watch the guy play, there’s a reason everybody here loves him, there’s a reason he’s been here a long time and he’s always done what he’s done,” Mitchell, who arrived in Calgary shortly after Burris departed at the end of the 2011 season, told Stampeders.com.
“He’s a great quarterback, he can put the ball all over the field, there’s really not a throw out there he can’t make,” Mitchell continued. “But what he does so well, especially right now, is he gets the ball to every receiver on the team. He’s not just targeting one guy and throwing the ball to him.”
Burris’ ability to spread the ball among his weapons so fluently has indeed played a significant role in such growth in the offence, as the Ticats head into Week 12 with arguably the league’s most explosive offence.
Last weekend three different players eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark, as Andy Fantuz and rookie receiver Greg Ellingson each hit the milestone, while C.J. Gable contributed from the running back position with 108 receiving yards and a touchdown – more than he even rushed for.
Fantuz, who likely has the greatest familiarity with Head Coach Kent Austin’s system having played under Austin as a Roughrider, said the key to thriving offensively has been and always will be getting everyone involved.
“All the receivers are playing with a lot of effort and working hard for each other to get each other open, and when Hank spreads the ball around that’s when we’re most effective,” said Fantuz, who caught six balls for 112 yards and a touchdown in a 37-29 win over the Lions last Saturday.
“We get a lot of passes in the game and if we can give everyone a little bit of that taste then it’s tough to guard us.”
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The Ticats continue to boast the league’s most potent passing attack after dismantling an elite BC Lions defence through the air last weekend, with Burris throwing for 375 yards and four touchdowns. That now gives him a league-leading 3,181 yards in just 10 games, putting him on pace for a career-high 5,726 yards over the course of a full season.
Austin said Burris’ success this season is what’s allowed his offence to transition to a brand new system, as the team remains right in the thick of the race for top spot in the East Division.
“That’s a credit to Hank,” Austin told Ticats.ca. “It’s a credit to his discipline, his desire to prepare well – it’s not an easy offence to play in, he’s bought completely in, he cares, he doesn’t want to let his teammates down.”
“He has all those attributes, and he’s a real pro, he understands what it means to be a professional quarterback and the price it’s going to take to be good. We need him to play well in our development right now, and he’s doing that for us.”
Now with wins in four of their last five and going up against the league’s hottest team over the last two seasons in Calgary, the Ticats are hungry to take the next step forward and make a major statement to the rest of the league.
“In order for us to take that next step in trying to become an elite team and a team that can make some noise down the stretch we need to win these games,” said Burris, whose Ticats currently sit in second place in the East Division, just two points back of the first place Toronto Argonauts.
“These are games you can make statements with, not only to the league, but more importantly making a statement to yourself.”
The Stampeders, meanwhile, have already spent the better part of their last 20 games making a statement, but have just as much to play for as the Ticats as they return home on Friday night.
While looking to get a leg up on the Roughriders, who they’re battling with for top spot in the West Division, they’ll rely on shifty young pivot Mitchell for the second straight week and the third time this season.
|The last time they met|
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Calgary 34, Hamilton 32
The Calgary Stampeders held off a determined Hamilton Tiger-Cats squad, whose comeback fell just short, in a wild 34-32 win over the Ticats on a snowy Saturday night at McMahon Stadium in Calgary....Read more.
Whether it’s Glenn, Mitchell, or original starter on opening day Drew Tate under centre, the Stampeders haven’t had any issues winning football games, something this weekend’s starter said has to do with the playmakers on offence and the focus on getting them the ball.
“Just making sure I keep getting my athletes the ball, that’s one thing I always preach because that’s my job as a quarterback,” said Mitchell. “You’re a facilitator, you’re the point guard of the offence, it’s not really on you to score the points, it’s on you to get the guys the ball and let them score the points.”
Mitchell did just that in last weekend’s win, finishing with a modest 175 passing yards and a touchdown on 19-26 passing. But he managed the game and kept his team in a position to win, while bouncing back from a sluggish first half to complete 12 of 14 second-half passes for 127 yards.
His performance wasn’t flashy, but it didn’t need to be. Not turning the ball over and taking the points when available is something Mitchell emphasized when asked about the team’s struggles to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns against Edmonton.
“I’m pretty sure we were pretty high percentage on points and that’s what matters to me, making sure that when we get into the red zone, we score points,” said Mitchell. “As long as we don’t turn the ball over, as long as we get down there and we come out with points, we’re happy with it.”
“As a quarterback you always want a touchdown every play, every drive, that’s just how it is, that’s why you play the position. I’m not satisfied by three points, but I’ll definitely take three points over a turnover and not any points.”
One player who’s become a fan of Mitchell is Stamps’ running back Jon Cornish, who currently sits second in the league with 940 rushing yards, and a league-best among starting running backs 6.8 yards per carry.
Cornish, who briefly spent time as a teammate of Burris, as well, pointed out that Mitchell has taken leadership of the offence in the absence of Glenn and Tate, which has kept the offence flowing.
“He’s doing pretty well for himself, I like playing with him,” said Cornish. “He has a great huddle presence, he’s able to get the ball to where it needs to be and those are two things you need in a quarterback.”
“Especially for how young he is, he’s able to keep the guys motivated and keep us on the field.”
Cornish, on the other hand, has his work cut out for him as he goes against a defence that’s starting to dominate in terms of stopping the run.
Last week the Tabbies held dynamic running back Andrew Harris to 10 yards on just five carries, which is something they’ll hope to repeat against a back in Cornish who’s averaging 104.4 yards per game this season.
“I would say they’re pretty good,” said the New Westminster, B.C. native. “They’ve been stout in the run, I think they held Andrew Harris to 10 yards or 20 yards last week, and that’s huge – any time you can stop a running back like that, that’s pretty good.”
“They’re going to be a great team to see what we’re worth in terms of the run game.”
With a win, the Stampeders will improve to 5-0 at home this season and extend their overall winning streak at McMahon Stadium to 10 games – something they haven’t accomplished since a record-breaking 27-game home winning streak that ended back in 1995.
Against the Ticats, meanwhile, Calgary has won six of its last seven meetings, and hasn’t lost at home to the Ticats since 2004.
Kickoff is at 9:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Ticats.ca/Stampeders.com