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October 10, 2019

FEELS LIKE PLAYOFF FOOTBALL

The Cat 924K remover’s beep! beep! beep! issuing a warning as it scrapes snow and ice behind the north end zone in bright sunshine at McMahon Stadium. The morning temperature/wind chill more in keeping with an Emperor penguin than an emperor among quarterbacks hailing from Katy, Tx.

Much in the balance. That familiar green menace from due east bent on usurping the throne.

A decidedly November feel to it all, a month early.

“Oh, man, this never gets old,’’ coos Bo Levi Mitchell. “Can’t you tell by the smile on my face?

“This right here is CFL football. Everything else leads up to moments like these.

“We want first place. We want to be on a roll heading into playoffs. What better way to do those things than by playing a team that’s hot right now, doesn’t seem to have any holes. And shoot, man, their head coach is the brother of our head coach.

“A lot to chew on, right?

“This is why I play the game. Why we all do.”

The 10-4 Saskatchewan Roughriders versus the 9-5 Calgary Stampeders, 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Set the traps. Trot out your well-thumbed, dog-eared copy of the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus for appropriate adjectives.

“I mean, we’re not in the playoffs yet but to be in this position, in the mix, given what’s at stake, it feels that way,’’ acknowledges slotback Reggie Begelton.

“Sask is Canada’s team. They’ve got fans everywhere. But we’re Calgary’s team. Of course they’re gonna have a lot of their fans in our stands. But at the day we can hush them up and give our fans a reason to get loud.

“The atmosphere is gonna be great. First place on the line. The bye. Home field. Look, all the chips are on the table. Who’s gonna take it?

“They’re gonna try and punch us in the mouth. We’ve just got to punch back.”

By tuck-in time late Friday night, the Stamps will either find themselves technically perched – as has become custom – on the West Division’s top rung (via having carried the seasonal series between the two rivals) or two games in arrears with only three dates remaining on the dance card. A highly precarious position, to put it mildly.

“Earlier, they were kind of up and down,’’ says the oracle of the Calgary D, 12-season defensive back Brandon Smith. “I don’t even know what kind of streak they’re on, to be honest, but they’ve been winning game after game, it seems.

“They’re sure clicking on all cylinders.

“All year we’ve been trying to put ourselves in a position to be in big games like this one. It’s huge. It has magnitude.”

Yes, much has changed between July 6th’s Nick Arbuckle-propelled 37-10 gouging of the flatlanders by the invading Stamps at Mosaic Stadium and now.

Riders are riding a 9-1 run since then.

“They’re just playing at a higher level,’’ critiques Calgary coach Dave Dickenson. “They’re basically the same team. They’ve been fortunate, the injury bug has gone their way this year.

“(On July 6) they were finding their way in the system. New coaches. They did go in free agent market to find some guys they liked. But their whole secondary is the same. Solomon (Elimimian)’s stepped up now – that was his first game back, against us. Micah (Johnson) didn’t have any training camp. He’s playing great football now.

“They’ve all just kinda elevated their play.

“They have a lot of talent. They’re physical. They’re fast. They’re aggressive. They added to their receiving corps – they’re as good as anybody.

“They’re quarterback is playing well. So, big challenge.”

Among the most pressing of those myriad of challenges is rush end Charleston Hughes, a former ally of no small achievement, currently with 15 sacks to lead the loop, at the ripe old age of 35.

“He’s having a great year,’’ praises Dickenson. “Letting everybody know about it, too. But he’s a great football player. He’s got lots in his repertoire. He’s got power, he’s got speed, he’s got spin. The other thing that’s underrated with him is that he’s very, very intelligent. He predicts snap counts, he knows tendencies, he peels with running backs.

“So he’s having a great year.”

The Charleston chatter, his old pals know from first-hand experience, is sure to be non-stop.

Hey, whatever drives a fella’s bus or floats his boat, shrugs Mitchell.

“That’s how he motivates himself, by talking. He’ll be talking on the field, too. Come out, do our jobs, and he won’t be talking as much.

“Our guys gotta stop his momentum. He’s a guy who plays really well when he plays free. He’s been here as long as anybody and is still doing it as well anybody.

“Definitely a game-changer, if you let him be.”

Ramifications. Rivalry. Family ties. New allegiances pitted against old alliances.

Yes, a decidedly November feel to it all, a month early.

“In one way, it definitely does have a different feel,’’ confesses the two-time MOP/two-time Grey Cup MVP. “Usually at this point in a season we maybe didn’t have first wrapped up but were two or so games ahead.

“Every single year I’ve been the starter we’ve won the division, except the one we tied with Edmonton at 14-4.

“So I’m kinda excited about being the team going out to hunt somebody.

“Let’s see how they respond to being in first place and trying to hold off someone coming after them hard.

“Don’t care how old or young you are, how many years you’ve been around. Games of this nature, as athletes this is what we live for.”