December 21, 2017

Stampeders take aim at Western title

Edmonton Eskimos at Calgary Stampeders
McMahon Stadium
Sunday, Nov. 19
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: News Talk 770, Sirius XM 167

After weeks of waiting, the time has almost come.

The Stamps are now just hours away from kicking off a sixth straight Western Final appearance with only the Edmonton Eskimos standing in the way of their return to the Grey Cup game.

“I certainly don’t feel like we’re going to go in as heavy favourites, which could in our minds maybe help,” forecasted head coach Dave Dickenson. “It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be one of those games I feel either team could win. We have to bring our best.”

As the result of earning a first-round bye with a 13-4-1 regular-season record, the Stamps have been out of action since a Nov. 3 loss to the Blue Bombers. Winnipeg was also the most recent opponent for the Esks, who went on the road and took care of the Bombers 39-32 in last weekend’s Western Semi-Final to earn the right to move on to McMahon. Edmonton finished third in the West during the regular season at 12-6.

A three-game series in 2017 saw the Stampeders go 2-1 against the Eskimos including a dominant Labour Day victory in the only matchup thus far on their own turf.

Edmonton’s high-powered offence led the league in yardage, touchdowns and points but will be facing a vaunted Red and White defence which finished No. 1 in quarterback pressures, yards per play allowed and first downs conceded.

“I think the fans are ready for a heavyweight tilt,” Dickenson anticipated. “I know last year in the Western Final, I felt it was as loud a crowd as we had all year and it helped our guys against BC. It really did. I felt like the energy was there. But they’ve been there all year, even when it was cold and we had those diehards and they supported us. But it would be nice to really fill up the building and keep everyone warm if it’s shoulder-to-shoulder up there and see what we can do. I love our team and I know the community has been supporting us so hopefully they come out and we can get it done.”

With a 3-1 playoff record and 2-1 mark in Western Finals to date, Bo Levi Mitchell will guide the Stamps against a Green and Gold squad headed by Mike Reilly, recently named the West’s representative for Most Outstanding Player. Reilly is 3-2 in the post-season and 1-2 in divisional finals. Both star quarterbacks have advanced to the second round of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.

CJ Gable of the Esks has averaged 94.8 rushing yards per game with five total touchdowns since coming over from the Tiger-Cats on Oct. 2. Calgary’s middle linebacker Alex Singleton, a defensive-player-of-the-year nominee, will need to key in on the former USC Trojan.

Count on Jerome Messam to get back on track after four sub-par performances. The physically imposing ball-carrier received a CFL-high 215 handoffs and was just 20 yards short of a second consecutive rushing title. Messam could be a crucial weapon in exposing Edmonton’s worst-rated red-zone defence.

A notable spark for the Stamps could once again be special-teams terror Roy Finch. The captivating returner finished fifth in all-purpose yards and tops in terms of kickoff-return average and punt-return TDs.

“I want them to be themselves,” emphasized Dickenson when asked about the mindset of his group. “We have to play with confidence and you get confidence by executing and doing your job the right way. We had a little bit of a hiccup late and I certainly am ready to play another game, a meaningful game that our guys show up for and show what they can do. I have faith that we are going to play well.”

Elevated to the 46-man roster this week are Ja’Gared Davis, Ciante Evans, Riley Jones, Marquay McDaniel, Marken Michel, Ante Milanovic-Litre, Joe Burnett and Brandon Smith. Those eight players will be taking the places of Reggie Begelton, Dexter Janke, Michael Kashak, Kenneth Olugbode, Mike Rose, Quinn Smith, Shaquille Richardson and Julian Wilson.