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The Calgary Stampeders aren’t used to playing in the Western Semi-Final, mainly because they aren’t used to finishing anywhere but first.
But, after three straight first place finishes in the West, the Stamps were usurped by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2019, which means no first round playoff bye and a tougher road to a fourth Grey Cup appearance.
If you talk to anyone in that Calgary locker room, they won’t lie to you: they wanted to win the West and they wanted an automatic berth into the Western Final. The Stampeders were actively rooting for the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 21, as they should have been.
An Esks win over Sask would have opened the door for Calgary to finish first with a win in BC. But, while the Stamps took care pof all they could control, all the finger-crossing earlier in the afternoon wasn’t enough to help Edmonton to a win. Sure, Calgary was slightly disappointed to not take top spot in the West, but they also know it wasn’t all decided in the final week of the season.
“It’s on us,” said quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell on his weekly Sportsnet 960 radio show in Calgary. “We should have…handled our business, won our game against Winnipeg, or a game earlier in the year. You can’t put it on Edmonton; they don’t care what we do or what happens to us, rightfully so.”
There’s no doubt the road is more difficult for the Stampeders. They’ll have to first beat a very good Winnipeg Blue Bombers team before they can think about tackling the challenge of beating the Riders at Mosaic. The Bombers are going to be a hard enough challenge Sunday afternoon at McMahon Stadium, seeing as how they took two of three from Calgary during the regular season.
But the Stamps believe they’re the best team in the CFL, which is hard to argue until, or if, they’re knocked off their perch as defending champs. If Calgary is indeed the best, where they play and the road they travel shouldn’t matter. The test is a little more difficult, so let’s see if the Stampeders are ready to pass with flying colours.
Three’s a crowd
Calgary also isn’t used to playing an opponent three times in four weeks. In reality, no football team is used to a circumstance like that because it almost never happens. But, because they ended up second in the West, that’s exactly the scenario they face: three games in four weeks against Winnipeg.
“It has been pretty weird,” said Stamps receiver Michael Klukas on Bo’s show. “Day one of the past three of four weeks going over the same personnel over and over again. It’s just an interesting situation I didn’t really think would happen, but it’s just the way the schedule worked out.”
A situation like this presents all kinds of different challenges for both sides, but it’s particularly unique for Calgary. While the Stamps needed a win in Week 21, the Bombers were on their final bye knowing exactly what they had to prepare for. Sure, where the Western Semi-Final was being played was still up in the air, Winnipeg knew they were playing Calgary and they’ve spent the last two weeks getting ready.
For the Stampeders, they know how unique a situation they’re facing. Calgary also knows the potential challenges they’ll have to overcome facing an extremely familiar opponent. In fact, knowing they’ve faced only Calgary in the last month, the Blue Bombers are probably more familiar with their opponent than vice versa.
“It’s a crazy chess match,” said Mitchell. “That’s my thing and I keep reiterating that to coaches and players and everybody. Let’s not overthink everything, let’s get out there and play football.
“We don’t need to, like, create 9,000 plays for a certain coverage, because we don’t know what they’re going to do. They had an entire week off, so let’s just create our plays that we like, that we feel comfortable that, that can work against any coverage that anybody runs against us and allow myself to find the correct throw.”
Winnipeg will likely have numerous different looks to throw at Calgary, especially with this only being quarterback Zach Collaros’s second game of the season. You can bet the Bombers held lots back in their playbook when Collaros faced the Stamps in Week 20. You can also put money on the fact Winnipeg hasn’t shown all their defensive looks just yet, which is something Mitchell is very well aware of.
“I think playoffs you’ve got to be ready for anything. Especially with Mike O’Shea, (Paul) LaPolice, the guys they’ve got over there, the minds they’ve got over there. They’re going to come up with some stuff to really change things up and we’ve got to be ready to, kinda see that and just react it instead of predicting that we know what they’re going to do.”
I chose Calgary to win this game for two primary reasons: they’re at home and they’re as healthy as they’ve been in months. In a season series with a combined points differential of seven points in three games, little edges like that make a difference.
I would be shocked, though, if this isn’t another extremely tight game between two evenly matched opponents. The fact they’re essentially finishing a mini-playoff series on Sunday just makes the Western Semi-Final that much more fascinating.