The Canadian Press
Even if the 2023 season has been beyond frustrating at times for the Calgary Stampeders, 18 straight years in the playoffs is nothing to scoff at.
With their impressive win over the BC Lions on Friday night, and with Saskatchewan’s heartbreaking loss at home to the Argos the following day, the Stamps are heading back to the playoffs for an 18th consecutive season. And there’s something to be said for how Calgary punched its post-season ticket.
While a 7-11 or 6-12 record is not what they necessarily envisioned, the Stampeders came up with huge performances when they needed it the most. And because they picked up wins in their two most crucial games of the season, Calgary went right through the playoff picture’s front door instead of backing in in uninspired fashion.
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It started in Week 19 with the game that swung everything. Trailing Saskatchewan 16-5 early in the third quarter in a game they absolutely had to have, the Stamps out-scored their arch-rival 21-5 the rest of the way to set up Week 20’s pivotal swing.
On this occasion, it was Calgary’s defence and special teams doing the trick. A forced fumble on Mario Alford set up the team’s first major before Cameron Judge ran back an interception 33 yards a couple series later. It was the perfect example of a team making big plays at big times and it allowed the Stamps to put together an 89-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put them ahead for good.
Fast forward to this past weekend. On the road, with a chance to put all the pressure on the Riders, Calgary left no doubt against one of the CFL’s best. The Stamps did exactly what they needed to do: play more urgent football than the BC Lions, who had significantly less to play for. Calgary took advantage of mistakes in the first half, ran the ball at an impressive clip and essentially forced the Lions to change personnel in the second half.
This time it was the offence shining through. Quarterback Jake Maier threw a pair of touchdown passes while tailbacks Peyton Logan and Ka’Deem Carey ran for 193 yards combined. And, back in the lineup after missing a week, Reggie Begelton led the way in the receiving game with 66 yards and a touchdown.
Even had the Riders prevailed in their season finale against Toronto, the Stamps would still have been in control of their own destiny. But by clinching their 18th-straight playoff spot a week early, head coach Dave Dickenson can manage his roster more effectively so they’re as prepared as possible for the Western Semi-Final on Nov. 4.
Oh, and the best part? That West Semi just happens to be a rematch of the two teams that played Friday night in the exact same building. Can BC punch back and get a measure of revenge? Or will the Stamps be able to avenge their playoff loss to the Lions from 2022?
I can’t wait to find out.
An uncertain future
The Saskatchewan sequel was as difficult to watch as the original. Seven straight losses to finish the season saw the Roughriders go from what looked like a competitive playoff team to a group on the outside looking in for a second straight year. The questions about what comes next are just starting to be asked.
First up is the fate of head coach Craig Dickenson. In his fourth year at the helm, Dickenson coached all season on an expiring contract. He knows as well as anyone that ending the last two seasons in chillingly identical fashion isn’t going to go over well in Regina.
“The people that make the decisions will make the decisions and I respect whatever direction they decide to go,” Dickenson said following Saturday’s loss. “I’ve enjoyed every minute here and I hope to continue to coach here, but if that’s not the way they go then I leave with no regrets.”
And while the last two seasons have ended in agonizing fashion, Dickenson is also the same head coach who steered Saskatchewan to play in a pair of highly competitive West Division Finals in his first two years. Had the Roughriders not lost quarterback Trevor Harris in Week 6, would they have been in the same situation? We’ll never know the answer to that question.
Speaking of Harris, his future also seems somewhat up in the air. While under contract for next season, Harris will also be 38 in May and some wonder if retirement is in his future. For those hoping he returns for year two in green, however, Harris’s comments over the weekend were encouraging.
“I want to play football, I think,” Harris said at Sask’s locker clean out day on Sunday. “I’m not a thousand per cent sure, but man, I’m not going to have my last play be like that.
“If you look around this room, we have good football players. We don’t have a bad roster. We have a top three or four roster in this league. We have talent, the guys that are in here, it’s just about us making the recipe complete.”
As the Riders pick up the pieces after a crushing end to their campaign, Harris’s words can serve as a little positivity heading into a long off-season.