Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Ricky Foley has been here before: staring down a tough team in a division final, with the possibility of playing in the Grey Cup on home turf on the line.
The Riders will play the Stampeders in Calgary in the CFL West Division final Sunday, with the winner heading to Regina for the Nov. 24 Grey Cup.
Foley was with the Toronto Argonauts last season, when they won the Grey Cup at home. But first, the Argos had to get past the Alouettes in Montreal in the East Division final.
It’s only Foley’s first year in Saskatchewan, but he says the Riders’ feelings about Calgary are similar.
“You can feel it. It’s definitely palpable,” Foley said after practice Thursday. “You can sense it around here with the guys who have been with the team for a while. I know how much they don’t like Calgary.
“We’ve got some guys on our team who like to talk, they’ve got some guys on their team who like to talk. They’ve got some guys who like to hit, we’ve got some guys who like to hit. 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.
“I think there’s a genuine distaste for each other right now at this point and Sunday’s probably going to explode and we’ll see what happens.”
Some things are similar to last year in this division final, Foley said, while others are not.
“Well, for me it’s a lot colder. I was in a dome last year doing this sweating, so that’s my main difference,” Foley joked. “The feeling, it’s pretty similar. Even when I was in B.C., it’s pretty similar. You know, 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.”
A 29-25 win over the B.C. Lions in the West semi-final last Sunday earned the Roughriders the trip to the division final.
Calgary won the West with the CFL’s best record of 14-4. The Stampeders also won the season series with Saskatchewan 2-1, with both victories coming at McMahon Stadium.
The atmosphere when the Stamps and the Riders meet in Calgary is always charged, partly because many Saskatchewan ex-pats live in Alberta.
There’s also a heated rivalry between the top two running backs in the CFL – Calgary’s Jon Cornish and Saskatchewan’s Kory Sheets. Cornish had a CFL-leading 1,813 yards, while Sheets was second with 1,598.
Both teams also sport solid defences, as the Riders allowed a league-low 22.1 points per game while the Stampeders were second at 22.9.
Foley, who also won a Grey Cup with B.C. in 2006, says playoff games come down to trusting your coaches and your 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.”