November 17, 2013, CALGARY (ISN) – The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders will settle their differences once and for all on Sunday afternoon, as they meet in the Western Final at McMahon Stadium.
It’s a chance to get the last laugh and ultimately to play in the 101st Grey Cup Championship in Regina next weekend, as these Western rivals go at it in the wake of three rather spirited regular season battles.
If the Riders and Stamps can agree on just one thing, it’s that they really don’t like each other.
“So any time you have that, I think it’s put into a little bit of a melting pot and it’s pretty combustible right now.””We’ve got some guys on our team who like to talk, they’ve got some guys on their team who like to talk,” defensive end Ricky Foley told The Canadian Press. “They’ve got some guys who like to hit, we’ve got some guys who like to hit.”
The rivalry between these perennial West Division contenders is nothing new, but this year it’s seemingly risen to new heights, whether it’s a rivalry between the league’s leading rushers Kory Sheets and Jon Cornish, or the usual expected trash talk from the likes of Dwight Anderson.
The height of it all may have come after the team’s third and final meeting this season, when the Riders fell 29-25 on a Saturday night late in October. After squandering a chance to finish first place, the Riders’ Anderson vowed his team would return to McMahon in the playoffs and win.
“He said enough after the last game, what was it, Calgary sucks’,” Stamps’ defensive back Keon Raymond said. “He said enough, we know exactly how he feels, you don’t have to sugarcoat anything.”
Raymond registered 51 tackles and four sacks this season, but while he’s also known for his verbal antics he opted to take the quieter road ahead of Sunday’s outing.
“I read in the paper that Calgary’s the number one team, and it is what it is,” Raymond continued. “He’s gonna make sure he puts on the smug face but he’s gonna come in here, he’s ready, I know what he’s saying to his team in his locker-room so we need to make sure we handle them correctly.”
Instead Raymond was more focused on helping his defence find a way to slow down Riders’ quarterback Darian Durant, who’s coming off one of the best playoff performances of his career on the way to a 29-25 come from behind win over the Lions in the division semi-final.
The 31-year-old appeared to be in vintage form, completing a high percentage of his passes (19 of 23 to be exact) for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
But more than that, Durant created some of the game’s biggest plays on the ground, extending the chains multiple times on second and long in the fourth quarter to keep BC off the field and eventually close out the game.
“Just make his reads hard for him,” Raymond said of Durant, who finished last week’s win with 97 rushing yards on six attempts. “Those runs that were called, I don’t know if they were improvised runs, maybe one or two of them but I think it was a great scheme that they called, good play-calling and I think that was the gist of it.”
Of equal concern for the Stamps will be keeping their offence hot, particularly after it led the league in the regular season with 383.4 net yards per game. “We can’t fixate our whole game plan on Darian Durant running, if we get focused on one thing we can’t forget they have a 1,000-yard rusher on their team.”
A lot of the focus will be on the regular season rushing champion Cornish, who finished the season with 1,813 to break his own single-season rushing record for a Canadian. But with receiving leader Marquay McDaniel out of the lineup, questions surround the Stamps’ receiving core.
With Joe West returning to the lineup and perhaps a miracle return by Nik Lewis after missing most of the season with a broken let though, not to mention a number of young emerging receivers on the roster, Kevin Glenn said he isn’t worried about who he’ll be throwing the ball to.
“All the guys, they do a very good job playing as a unit and helping each other out, blocking for each other on screens and just doing the little things in order for us to be successful,” said Glenn. “So I think all the guys will contribute in McDaniel’s absence.”
One of the young receivers the Stamps may lean on is rookie Jeff Fuller, who had 15 catches for 254 yards and looks to play the same kind of style as fellow Texas A&M alum Lewis.
“Nik has definitely made the transition a lot easier for me to come out here, and he’s shown me around a little bit, we’ve gone out to eat a few times,” said Fuller, just 23 years old. “The game is a little bit different, we’re both Texas-style football players.”
“He brings a Southern physicality to the game I feel like and I just try to do the same.”
What’s clear is that for the Stamps, being in the West Final is nothing new and heading into Sunday it’ll be business as usual. They’ve been in the playoffs for nine straight seasons now, and are now preparing to play in their fifth Division Final in six seasons.
That could provide them their greatest advantage over the Riders, who haven’t been this far since 2010 and also face the pressure of getting to the Grey Cup in front of their home fans, following in the footsteps of the Argos and Lions over the past two seasons.
While realizing the opportunity ahead, the Riders are trying hard to stay focused on the task at hand and not get caught up in what’s at stake. Foley is one of the few players on the roster that have been through this all before, including last season when he played a key role in the Argos getting to the big game at home.
“Well, for me it’s a lot colder,” Foley told the Canadian Press. “I was in a dome last year doing this sweating, so that’s my main difference.”
“The feeling, it’s pretty similar,” he continued. “You get to this point, you realize it’s the CFL and anybody can win on any given day. The best four teams are left and you’ve got to bring your A-game.”
Foley offered his advice from being in this situation to teammates.
“From my experience, the best thing to do is not get too uptight, not try to do anything too much different than what you’ve done,” he said. “You’ve been successful, you’ve gotten to this point, keep doing what you’ve done to get here and just be focused.”
In terms of the heated rivalry, meanwhile, the Riders understand that the biggest statement is always the one made on the field, not off it. A win over the Stamps in Calgary to get to the 101st Grey Cup at home would be a moment Saskatchewan could never forget, and likely nor could Calgary.
“You can’t let the emotions get the best of you,” said Durant. “You have to realize that it’s going to take a full 60 minutes of fundamental football to get the job done, especially on the road in hostile territory against a damn good team.”
“You have to realize what’s at stake and make sure that you have the right state of mind.”
In the end, Durant added, people won’t remember the three regular season games, but what happened when everything was on the line.
“It’s all about now,” he continued. “They know they’ll face a different team. We know we’ll face a different team. I don’t think what happened this year has anything to do with what you’ll see on Sunday.”