The temperature is dropping.
And the playoff atmosphere is heating up.
Even with two regular-season games left on the docket, the Red & White have been deep in ‘playoff’ football for some time.
“We’ve been preaching that we’ve been in the playoffs for the last two weeks now,” said veteran OL Derek Dennis.
“We’re all thinking about these games as playoff games anyway, because they basically are,” echoed second-year man Ryan Sceviour. “We want to try to get that bye. That extra week is just huge.”
With each passing week, the importance of every game increases for the Stampeders as they chase the vaunted top spot in the West and a bye to the Western Final.
Having the chance to get playoff experience before the do-or-die games in November is extremely valuable for a club that is rostering more than twenty players with zero playoff CFL experience.
“I think these games are monumental because it’s getting them ready for what we’re going to have to do next month,” said Dennis, who knows exactly what it takes to become a Grey Cup champion.
“When you’re a young guy and you don’t have the experience it’s hard to understand the magnitude of the games. Especially in the CFL, this is the time of year when games get tougher physically, they get tougher mentally, and you’ve just got to push through it.
“We play a long season, 18 games is a lot of football to play. For them to understand how to manage that long season, take care of their bodies and get themselves ready to peak at the right time; we see it year after year, a team can go 8-8 and still win the Grey Cup because you peak at the right time. I think the experience they’re getting right now is monumental and it’s going to help us in the long run.”
“Absolutely, it’s been huge,” added rookie defensive back Raheem Wilson. “Especially the way we’ve been in positions to battle. We’re learning as we go throughout the games. Week to week we have a plan, of course, but the other team has the same thing, so we have to adjust. The atmosphere of these games, with everyone trying to get first place right now, it’s been a huge learning experience for us.”
Despite the significant number of rookies or second year players who have never stepped on the field for a real playoff game, the team still has some big voices in the room who can guide the ship.
A perfect example of this was seen last weekend when the team was facing a 27-19 deficit at halftime.
“Actually, it was Cordarro (Law),” explained Dennis. “At halftime, he gave the team a speech and basically told us to leave it all on the field, there’s no tomorrow for us at this point.
“In the first half, he was telling everybody that we were playing like wusses. He told us that in the second half we needed to leave it on the field, lay it on the line, and he was doing a great example of being a leader, flying around and making plays all by himself. I think guys took to the message.”
“I think in the second half, we went into the locker-room knowing that in the first half we didn’t play our football. Point blank, period,” said Wilson. “As far as effort, tackling, our adjustments and calls, we weren’t playing Stampeders defence. We just came out and we had a different energy and a mindset towards it. We were never nervous, we never doubted, but we knew that we were capable of playing better.
“I don’t know, we just came out real slow. A team trying to fight for first just like us, they came out and gave us their best shot. We got an early touchdown from the offence and maybe that got us a little relaxed or something. But then we got punched in the mouth and we weren’t ready to punch back until the second half.”
Another ‘playoff’ game is on the horizon as the Stampeders travel to Winnipeg on Friday for the second half of a home-and-home with the Blue Bombers.
Now on opposition turf, this game presents a new set of learning experiences and a chance to continue building for what comes in November.
“I definitely noticed in the Winnipeg game, and even the Saskatchewan game, that those guys are coming a lot faster,” remarked Sceviour. “Even scheme-wise, they’re throwing everything at you. It’s faster and everyone is coming hard, so you have to be ready for that.
“We know in this game, they’re going to send everything they have at us now. We did a great job locking them down last week, so we know they’re going to come at us harder and we need to be ready for everything they’ve got.”
“We got a chance to feel a playoff atmosphere at home and now we get to understand what it’s going to feel like on the road and we’ve got to take care of that business,” said Dennis.
“That’s the next step that we’re trying to take.”