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By Mike Hardiman
The Calgary Stampeders face the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West semifinal as the Stamps’ hopeful road to the 100th Grey Cup starts in the friendly confines of McMahon Stadium.
Calgary won the right to host the first round of the CFL playoffs by posting a 12-6 record during the regular season and finishing second in the West Division. The Riders finished third with an 8-10 mark and the two teams finished the regular season heading in opposite directions. Calgary won its last four games of the season (and last five at home) while the Riders are entering the post-season on a four-game losing streak.
The last time the Stamps won four games in a row to end the regular season was 2008, which was also the last time they won the Grey Cup.
The Stampeders won two of three games played against the Riders in 2012 including 41-38 overtime thriller at home in Week 4. Calgary has enjoyed good success of late in the regular season against the Riders, putting up a 8-2 record over the past three seasons and posting a 6-2-1 home record under head coach John Hufnagel including a five-game winning streak dating back to 2010.
The playoffs have been a different story however as the Riders are currently riding a five-game post-season winning streak against the Stamps dating back to 1997 and have won their last three playoff games at McMahon.
The Stamps have hosted the West semifinal 15 times since 1968 and own an 11-4 record, but three of those losses have come at the hands of the Riders. Calgary had the second-best home record in the league at 7-2 led the West with a 7-3 record in division play.
The Riders were 3-6 on the road (third in the league) and 4-6 against Western teams (third in the division).
The West semifinal will get under way at 2:30 p.m. MST on Sunday, Nov. 11 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
The game will be televised on TSN and RDS2 as part of a playoff doubleheader with the East semifinal between Edmonton and Toronto directly preceding it. The game can also be heard on the radio at QR77 (AM 770 on the radio dial and www.qr77.com on the Internet) and on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, channel 157 and channel 160 for XM subscribers.
Fans in the U.S. can catch watch the game on NBCSN and via webcast on ESPN3 (www.espn.go.com). The game will also be seen the next day at www.tsn.ca on TSN’s video-on-demand page.
The Stampeders offence had a productive season in 2012, finishing in the CFL’s top three in 16 statistical categories. Calgary led the CFL in touchdowns and was second in points (29.7 per game) and first downs (395). The Stamps were third in total offence, averaging 377.0 yards per game.
Calgary enjoyed fast starts this season on offence, leading the league in first-quarter points with 144 and posting the biggest score differential in the opening quarter — plus-86.
The Stamps were 7-1 when they led after the first quarter and 9-1 when they finished the game with more offence than their opponent.
RB Jon Cornish led the way on offence, leading the league in rushing with 1,457 yards and 11 major scores. Cornish led the league in rushes of more than 10 yards with 44 and first-down-conversion runs with 66. The Stampeders running back is a double nominee for the league year-end awards, representing the West as both Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian.
It’s the first time a Canadian has been a finalist for the league’s top player award since former Stampeder Dave Sapunjis back in 1995. Sapunjis was the last Stampeder to win the top Canadian award (in ’95) and Henry Burris (2010) was the last Stamp to win MOP.
QB Drew Tate will get the start after passing for only 570 yards and four touchdowns this season due to injury. He was 2-1 in his starts and rated out at 102.0 for the season.
SB Nik Lewis led the team in receiving with a league-best and career-high 100 catches (with 14 games of five catches or better) for 1,241 yards (his ninth straight season of over one thousand yards) and 10 touchdowns. SB Marquay McDaniel was second with 53 catches for 744 yards but missed the last three games of the season with an injury.
Maurice Price filled in spectacularly for McDaniel, registering 11 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns (all more than 53 yards) in the last three games of the regular season. WR Romby Bryant was second on the team with 55 receptions, was third in yardage with 678 and scored two touchdowns.
Calgary’s defence was solid all season long, finishing third in points allowed at 23.9 per game and first downs allowed at 356. The defence also ranked fourth in touchdowns allowed at 44 and yards allowed at 353.6 per game.
The Stamps won their last four games of the year and the defence turned up the heat in those contests, racking up 16 turnovers, collecting 17 sacks and scoring two touchdowns.
The Red and White finished the year with 43 sacks (second best) and 38 takeaways (third best).
Charleston Hughes was named the team’s top defensive player after a campaign that saw him lead the team in sacks with 11 (second best in the CFL) while registering 53 tackles, five forced fumbles, seven tackles for losses and three pass knockdowns.
MLB Juwan Simpson led the team in tackles with 82 and also had two sacks and three fumble returns. LB Malik Jackson had a bounce-back season with 57 tackles, three sacks, eight tackles for loss and three fumble returns.
CB Keon Raymond led the team with five interceptions (second best in the league) and had 44 tackles while S Eric Fraser was fifth on the team with 48 tackles as well as chipping in two interceptions.
K Rene Paredes ended up third in league scoring with 170 points. Paredes missed only three field-goal attempts all season (40 made of 43 attempted) and led the CFL with a 93.0-per cent accuracy rate, the best mark in club history. Paredes enters the playoffs on a streak of 18 consecutive field goals and has not missed an attempt in his last six games.
P Rob Maver averaged 43.2 yards per punt (fourth in the league) but led the CFL in net punting with a 36.3-yard average. LB Karl McCartney was third in the league with 23 tackles on special teams.
The Riders finished the 2012 season fifth in scoring, averaging 25.4 points per game. Saskatchewan scored more than 30 points in a road game three times but only once in the last seven road games. The Riders averaged only 17.6 points in their six road losses.
The Riders were third in rushing at 111.5 yards per game and second in average gain per rush at 5.9 yards. RB Kory Sheets (#1) was second in the CFL in rushing with 1,277 yards and was third in yards from scrimmage with 1,794. The Riders running back was third in the CFL with 13 touchdowns.
QB Darian Durant (#4) had a solid year, finishing sixth in passing with 3,878 yards, 20 TDs and a 92.4 rating. Durant threw 12 interceptions — 11 in his eight losses as a starter but only one in his eight wins.
SB Weston Dressler (#7) is the Roughriders’ No. 1 receiver, leading the team with 94 catches for 1,206 yards and a league-best 13 touchdowns.
Saskatchewan’s defence was second in the CFL, allowing an average of 22.7 points per game, 333.7 yards of offence and 39 total touchdowns. Their average went up to 25.0 points allowed per game on the road and 29.2 points per game in the six road losses (including season high 41 points in Calgary).
LB Tyron Brackenridge (#41) led the team in tackles with 77 and tied for the team lead in picks with two. DE Odell Willis (#11) tied for the team lead in sacks with Tearrius George (#93), each with six.
DB Chris McKenzie (#39) also had two interceptions — as well as 50 tackles — on the year. The Riders were eighth in takeaways with 31, including 11 interceptions, and fifth in sacks with 34.