Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell knows that his Calgary Stampeders need to win “no matter what” this weekend.
Heading into the final week of the CFL’s regular season, the Stamps are still locked in a battle with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for first place in the West — with a crucial bye week and home playoff spot on the line.
“We’d love to be in first place, have it locked up, be resting guys because we’re not the healthiest team in the world,” Mitchell said Friday. “We’ve got guys who are banged up. I’m sure everybody does. But we’d love to have that bye week to get guys ready to go.”
In order to cement their position atop the standings, however, the Stamps (11-6) need to beat the B.C. Lions (5-12) in Vancouver on Saturday night.
Calgary will also need some help from its Alberta rivals. If Saskatchewan (12-5) beats or ties the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday, the Riders will automatically lock up a first-place finish, regardless of how the Lions-Stamps game ends.
Mitchell and Calgary wide receiver Reggie Begelton both admitted that they’ll likely watch a bit of the Esks-Riders matchup before turning their attention to game prep.
That doesn’t mean the Stampeders are pinning their playoff hopes on another team’s results, however.
“It just doesn’t change anything for us. No matter what, we have to win our game, whether it’s for first or third or second,” Mitchell said. “So we’ll see if we get a little bit lucky in that sense. But we’re just going to go out there and fight for what we can fight for.”
Calgary heads into Saturday’s contest on a two-game losing skid after dropping back-to-back games against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The last couple of weeks have made the team realize they need to have some urgency to their play, Begelton said.
“Throughout the year you lose a game, you’re like ‘Oh, OK. Well, we got to back on our feet,’” he said. “But now it’s to that point where you have to be extra critical of the things that you want to fix because you really don’t have any more time. It’s playoff football. You have to get it now.”
Heading into the post-season, Stamps coach Dave Dickenson feels that his group still has a lot of work to do if they want to get to the Grey Cup final and defend last year’s title.
“We’re not playing at championship level yet,” he said. ”We’ve got to get there if we want to have a chance. But I’m confident in the guys in the room that we can get there.”
The squad has been “scratching and fighting” all year, Dickenson said, and he wants to see more consistency from the group come Saturday. That means seeing special teams deliver more plays, while the offence and defence string together a solid 60 minutes.
“We know it’s not going to be perfect but I do need to see some play makers,” the coach said.
B.C. was ruled out of post-season play weeks ago after starting the year with a dismal 1-10 record.
But Lions coach DeVone Claybrooks said the home still has something to prove heading into its final game of the season on Saturday.
“You want to make sure that you’re building a solid foundation to be competitive and compete for championships. And I think we’re trending in that direction,” he said. “You’ve got some holes and some things you want to clean up and the key to that is identifying what you need to fix and how you need to fix it and those steps and that’s a process in itself as well.”
The Lions have yet to beat a West Division rival this year — a fact that isn’t lost on the team’s top receiver, Bryan Burnham.
“It’s been rough. We’ve been in some games, but it’s been rough,” he said. ”So it would definitely feel good to go out on a high note and beat a good Calgary team that’s going into making another Grey Cup run.”
Burnham heads into Saturday’s matchup with a career-high 1,401 receiving yards, good for second in the league.
CALGARY STAMPEDERS (11-6) VS. B.C. LIONS (5-12)
Saturday, B.C. Place
WORST CASE SCENARIO: A Saskatchewan win and a Calgary loss on Saturday would see the Stampeders finish third in the West. In that case, Winnipeg would host Calgary in the western semifinal on Nov. 10.
CLOSE GAME: The Stampeders have gotten used to tight scores this season — 13 of Calgary’s games have been won by seven points or less.
RUSHING TO FINISH: Lions running back John White comes into Saturday’s contest having rushed for 960 yards this year. If the 28-year-old can add at least another 40 yards against Calgary, it will mark White’s first 1,000-yard CFL season.
LAST HURRAH: Stampeders defensive back Brandon Smith will play his last regular-season game on Saturday. The 35-year-old California native announced last month that he will retire at the end of this season. Smith has spent his entire 12-year CFL career in Calgary, tallying 641 tackles in 156 career games and winning three Grey Cups.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press