CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders pulled off a huge road win over the B.C. Lions two weeks ago to save their season.
Now, the Stampeders (6-12) will need to replicate that feat against the Lions (12-6) on Saturday in the CFL’s Western Semifinal at B.C. Place in Vancouver.
“We’re not overconfident, but we’re excited to have the opportunity,” said Calgary general manager and coach Dave Dickenson. “We’ve always given ourselves a chance all year.
"A lot of other people may not have. I feel like if we gel and do the right things, we’ve got a chance to beat anybody. We’re happy for the opportunity.”
Dickenson was careful not to put too much stock into his team’s 41-16 Oct. 20 win over their rivals, who had already locked up a playoff spot and second spot in the West Division standings.
"It’ll be a completely different game, no doubt," Dickenson said. "We also went over there earlier in the year and took our worst loss (a 37-9 setback to the Lions on Aug. 12) of the year.
"We have to understand they’re a great team and be ready to play them. Listen, we have to play well. We have to play our best game of the year to beat them."
Just one day after Calgary’s clutch win in Vancouver, the Saskatchewan Roughriders dropped a 29-16 decision to the Toronto Argonauts in Regina. That locked up third spot in the West Division for the Stamps and made their final home game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers all but meaningless.
Dickenson opted to rest several players in Calgary’s season-ending 29-13 setback to the Bombers (14-4), including receiver Reggie Begelton, who was the team’s nominee as most outstanding player.
"He will be going and we need him to win," Dickenson said of Begelton, who made an acrobatic catch for a touchdown during Calgary’s win over B.C. "When he doesn’t play you can tell we’re just not the same team. He’s kind of our catalyst."
Begelton, who led the Stamps with 1,119 receiving yards and five touchdown catches in 15 games, said the Stampeders understand the tough assignment ahead of them, which is to beat a rested Lions squad and advance to take on the Blue Bombers in the West Final in Winnipeg on Nov. 11.
"We’ve been playing playoff football since Labour Day," said Begelton. "For us, going into this game is nothing new for us. We’ve just got to stay calm and understand what the goal is at the end of the day. Don’t make this harder than what it is.
"The opponent on the other side is going to try to win this game just as hard as we are. We’ve just got to bring back the same intensity."
Cameron Judge, Calgary’s nominee for most outstanding Canadian, also sat out the regular season finale against the Bombers, but he’s hungry for the rematch against the Lions.
"I’m very excited for this game," said the 28-year-old linebacker. "It’s tough sitting out any game, but it’s for the bigger picture. I’m ready to get back out there playing again."
Judge led the Stamps with five interceptions, including three in his final three games of the season. Against the Roughriders, he returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown and he followed that up the next week with a clutch forced fumble on the goal line in the first half of Calgary’s win over the Lions.
“It was nice we kind of got it together when we needed to and hopefully we can keep it going throughout the playoffs,” said Judge, who expects that the Lions will put up a better fight than they did the last time the teams faced each other. “I’m expecting to get their best from every player out there. I’m expecting to go to war.”
For the underdog Stamps to pull off another road win over the Lions, Dickenson said that he’ll need another stalwart defensive effort from the likes of Judge and Micah Awe, Calgary’s nominee for most outstanding defensive player, who set a club record while leading the CFL in defensive tackles with 134.
"Micah is our tackling machine and Cam does a lot of the other work," said Dickenson.
He had further praise for Judge.
"He's great in coverage. He’s a very versatile guy and had a great year himself. I think our linebacking corps has kind of kept that group together – front end, back end, they’re the glue that keeps it all together and Cam’s been a big part of that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2023.
Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press