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Friday night’s tilt between the Roughriders and Stampeders re-ignites one of the best rivalries in recent CFL memory.
These two teams last played head-to-head for first this late in the season in 2009 when the rivalry was at it’s boiling point.
If you ask me who the best rivalry was for the Roughriders at that time, I’d have said the Stampeders over the Bombers.
Rider fans chanted ‘Henry,’ Jon Cornish once mooned the East sideline at Taylor Field, Rider coach Corey Chamblin once made a guarantee Cornish wouldn’t eclipse 100-yards. It was a heated matchup due to their playoff meetings five times from 2007-2013.
Three of those were Western Finals with the Riders winning all three.
In recent memory, the rivalry had it’s moments (Duron Carter warned Bo Levi Mitchell to throw his way and proceeded to pick him off for a touchdown) but it’s been nowhere near what it was for that seven season span.
Up for grabs this Friday is control of the West Division with three weeks left on the season.
While the rivalry was/is heated, the Riders respect the dominance Calgary has shown in the West Division. They’d like nothing more to mirror that success themselves.
But if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
And the Riders seem to have the team to do it.
The biggest reason the rivalry cooled off is due to the fact the Riders had a wave of bad seasons and erratic quarterback play.
Now they appear to have the guy to compete with Bo Levi Mitchell.
No, it’s not Bo Levi Mitchell good but it’s up there as one of the best records to start a career.
But it hasn’t been all sunshine for Fajardo. The first year starter’s worst game of the season was his first match-up against the Stampeders. Fajardo openly admits the Stamps game planned well for him with a lot of zone defence, which was something Fajardo hadn’t faced a lot in his young career.
Now Fajardo is having a much better time executing the offence against zone or man or any other defence you can throw at him. Since that 37-10 loss back in July, the Riders have rattled off nine wins in their last 10 games.
He can’t wait to get out there again against the Stampeders and prove he belongs in the conversation with the CFL’s elite and beat a Mitchell-led Calgary team.
And to build Fajardo’s Most Outstanding Player resume, a win in a big game like this on the road with Mitchell in the lineup would make a big statement.
Friday will also be a test for a confident and improving Riders defence who claim the previous meeting against Calgary was also their low point of the season, especially with Mitchell on the sideline.
And don’t ignore the game within the game. Riders receiver Shaq Evans emphatically exclaimed he was the best receiver in the league. To prove it, he’ll have to out produce Reggie Begelton, who statistically is having a better year.
But it’s not only Begelton that Evans has to beat. Friday also gives us a great one-on-one battle between Evans and cornerback Tre Roberson, who should be in the conversation for Most Outstanding Defensive Player because of his lockdown coverage for Calgary.
You also have the return to Calgary for defensive tackle Micah Johnson, who left the Grey Cup Champs for a big pay day in Saskatchewan. While Johnson’s three sacks this season are no where near his 14 last year, Johnson comes in with three sacks in his last four games.
Across the board, these teams match up very well with little to differentiate between the two and should give CFL fans a heck of a show.
Saskatchewan has become the team standing in the way of Calgary’s dream of playing at home in the Grey Cup.
And Friday gives us a sample of what could be ahead in a possible meeting between the two in the Western Final.