TORONTO -- The Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders will each test their depth on Saturday evening, as a rematch of the 100th Grey Cup unfolds at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto.
Last weekend saw the Argos turn their ship around with their 48-15 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders at home, marking a 57-point turnaround from a season-opening loss in Winnipeg.
Now they’ll look to defend their home turf before going on the road for seven of their next nine games, and in their sights is a Calgary team missing arguably its top three producers on offence in Jon Cornish, Maurice Price, and Nik Lewis.
“It shouldn’t change anything,” third-year head coach Scott Milanovich told Argonauts.ca when asked about Calgary’s injury situation. “Their backup running backs can play, if we think the fact that Jon’s not playing can give us an opportunity to relax it’s going to burn us.”
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The Stampeders have epitomized the word ‘depth’ in the CFL over the last decade, as most of their current stars began their Stampeders careers as backups given the opportunity to play as a result of injuries.
This time the next man up for Calgary is National running back Matt Walter, who just so happened to steamroll the Argos in a similar battle of injury-riddled clubs the last time these teams met at the Rogers Centre.
After getting the ball in the end zone on his first drive, Argos' star pivot Ricky Ray was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury, leaving both teams with backups at both quarterback and running back. Walter rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries to lead the Stamps to a 35-14 win to avenge their Grey Cup loss.
“You don’t get Ricky hurt on the second drive, that helps,” Milanovich joked when asked about that particular evening. “Their backs are good whether Jon’s in there or not – they’re going to hang their hat on dominating the line of scrimmage and pouring it downhill on our guys.”
“Cornish is a great back so I’d rather he not play, but I don’t think things will change as far as what they’re gonna do or their plans on pounding the rock so I don’t think we can change.”
While Milanovich is sure of what he can expect from Calgary’s ground-pound offence, the Argos’ own situation on offence may look a little different as they too are forced to deal with injury issues. It was announced that Andre Durie would miss around six weeks with a clavicle injury suffered in the team’s win over the Riders, while Jason Barnes will sit on Saturday as he nurses an injured knee.
Each played a considerable role in Toronto’s big day on offence, combining for nine catches, 116 yards, and a receiving touchdown while helping Ray finish with 407 passing yards. Meanwhile the Boatmen continue to look for a permanent answer at running back, as Curtis Steele continues to shoulder the load in the early going.
But the Argos’ head coach isn’t worried, especially considering it’s a pretty familiar position for his club.
“We’ve been fortunate in the past to have had some injuries and had the same kind of success that Calgary’s had, where the guys have stepped in and done their job, and it’s become the expectation here with the players in our locker-room,” Milanovich said.
“It’s just become the norm and that’s a good thing.”
This year’s third-overall pick Anthony Coombs will take Durie’s spot in the spotlight following an impressive showing against the Roughriders with extended playing time. He rushed for 52 yards on a mere six carries and added a catch for 17 yards, but more importantly showed composure in the team’s fast-pace offence and also stood up well in pass protection.
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Rookie receiver Darvin Adams will draw into the lineup to replace Barnes, while another rookie in Terrell Sinkfield could also get some looks as the Argos look to perfect the same ‘next man up’ mentality that Calgary’s demonstrated so successfully.
“It doesn’t necessarily make you feel all that warm and fuzzy,” Milanovich said of the injuries. “But I’ve gotten to a point where I really trust that the next guy’s gonna step up and do his job and a large part of that is the way the team handles it.”
“They don’t blink and they have faith in the guys that are next to them. I expect the guys to play well, we had the same issues last week and I expect them to go in there and do their job.”
The Argos will also be without the help of veteran linebacker Shea Emry on defence, but should see a boost with the addition of veteran defensive back Dwight Anderson, set to make his first start as an Argo in the halfback position on Saturday.
While both teams have their share of injuries, the Stampeders appear to have it a little worse in that department despite coming off an early-season Week 2 bye week.
Last year’s Most Outstanding Player and Canadian, Cornish won’t yet return after the injury suffered in a vicious hit back in the season opener two weeks ago, while the team will have to get contributions in the passing game from receivers other than Lewis and Price.
Yet as quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell pointed out, the focus is on who’s suiting up this weekend rather than who isn’t.
“We’re gonna have to rally around the guys that are playing,” Mitchell, set to make his fifth career start, told Stampeders.com. “Obviously Nik’s a great player and has been for a long time in this league, but it’s part of the business, it’s pro football.”
|The last time they met|
Sunday, September, 21 2013
Toronto 33, Calgary 27
Led by Zach Collaros the Argos would continue their long road win streak winning their fifth road game of the season beating the Stamps 33-27.
» Read more.
“Guys get injured – guys get hurt, nicked up for a week or two so we’ve got guys coming in, we know they’re confident and they know what we’re doing so we’ll ride with them.”
The Stamps certainly don’t expect it to slow them down, especially after their dominating performance in the home-opener against the Montreal Alouettes in Week 1. Mitchell completed 16 of 25 passes for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns, as he improved to 4-0 in his career thanks to a 29-8 win.
What was most impressive though was Calgary’s defence, which allowed just 175 yards and only 103 through the opening three quarters. They didn’t surrender a single big play and only one gain of 15 or more yards, while preventing Montreal from running a single play inside the 30-yard-line until the final 30 seconds.
With the momentum of a 14-win season in 2013 and a blowout victory to begin this year’s campaign, Head Coach and General Manager John Hufnagel is confident in Mitchell and the rest of the team, regardless of who’s in the lineup.
“We won the game, every game he’s started he’s played well and every game he’s played here he’s played well, and we’ve won before without Jon Cornish,” Hufnagel said. “This is a football team, this isn’t about one or two individuals.”
“We’re going in with the same basic game plan we try to take in each and every week,” he continued. “The plays are different, but as far as what we want to try to concentrate on and get a good mix as far as the run and play-action and hopefully we can achieve that.”
Aside from injuries, still playing in the minds of some of the veterans on the team are the team’s struggles to win in Toronto over the years. Including the 2012 Grey Cup the Stamps have lost four of their last five at the Rogers Centre, and players hope winning there last season can buck the trend.
“The veteran guys are very, very aware of the troubles we’ve had in Toronto,” Rob Cote told the team’s official website. “Especially 2012, that’s never left us so I think it does add a little extra fire going out there.”
“Guys are ready, it’s a challenge for us to go across the country and play a good team but I think we’re ready.”
Kickoff is at 6:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen live on TSN.
- With files from Argonauts.ca/Stampeders.com