The Canadian Football League regular season will continue for another six weeks, but Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin has chosen to overlook that for the moment.
“We will approach this, in my mind, like a playoff game,” Chamblin said as the Riders went through final preparations for Sunday afternoon’s match against the Calgary Stampeders in Regina.
Coining the phrase “old-school football,” Chamblin added: “I want all 42 [players] at their best and a little bit more.”
The Stampeders (7-4) hold down second place in the West Division, ahead of the Riders and Edmonton Eskimos.
Sunday’s meeting at Mosaic Stadium will be the third and final regular-season game between Calgary and Saskatchewan. The Stamps are looking for a sweep, having won the previous matches by scores of 33-31 in Calgary and 17-10 in Regina.
“Calgary is a team we need to learn how to play against,” Chamblin said, “and a team we need to learn how to win against.”
To a significant degree, victory for Saskatchewan will depend on stopping, or at least slowing down, Calgary running back Jon Cornish, who leads the league in rushing with 880 yards and boasts an average gain of 5.8 yards per carry.
Chamblin has issued a challenge to his defence by telling them: “There is no running back that will come in here and run wild.”
The Riders feel confident that they can contain Cornish, because they now have Joe Lobendahn at middle linebacker. Lobendahn signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent in late August and this will be his first game against Calgary in a green-and-white uniform.
“I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great running back, one of the best in the CFL,” Lobendahn said, “but I’m ready for anything.”
Calgary’s primary strengths are its running game and its defence, Chamblin said, but the Riders do not underestimate the talents of journeyman quarterback Kevin Glenn, who has thrown for 2,537 and 14 touchdown with nine interceptions.
“He’s not [Montreal QB Anthony Calvillo], but he has some of that quick-release thing,” Chamblin said, adding that the secret to success against Glenn is to apply pressure with a rush and good coverage, and thus make him “antsy” in the pocket.
Glenn has emphasized the importance of a quick start.
“That’s what happened last time we were there. We came out fast,” Glenn said. “I think that was probably one of the biggest things that helped us keep the lead and stay in the lead and win that game.”
A quick start might also silence the crowd at Mosaic Stadium.
“It’s a hostile environment where the crowd is always into it,” said Glenn. “They’re not a crowd that sits on their hands. They’re going to get up and they’re going to cheer, so we’ve just got to be prepared and focused to overcome that.”
Calgary linebacker Juwan Simpson suggests there could be additional motivation for the Riders in that they are coming off a disappointing 28-17 loss to the Alouettes in Montreal after sweeping the Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Simpson said. “We know they’re coming off a tough loss, so they’re going to be a little upset, emotional and fired up. We know it’s going to be a four-quarter game, it always is. We’ll just see what happens.”
Added Simpson: “I love playing in front of that crowd. They kind of challenge you. When you’re down and that crowd’s making noise, you kind of want to silence them. The intensity’s there and there’s a great atmosphere to play football.”
In Montreal last weekend, the Riders put the ball in the hands of rookie quarterback Drew Willy. Sunday’s game will mark the return of Darian Durant, who had been sidelined with a hip flexor.
“Darian’s the master of his own fate,” Chamblin said when asked if Durant might be limited to any degree by the effects of that injury. “He knows his body better than anybody.”
Like his head coach, Durant has placed an additional emphasis on this game. He looks at it as a means of establishing a team identity in what has been a roller-coaster season of winning streaks and losing streaks.
“We have an opportunity to figure out right now who we are,” he said.
Riders linebacker Tyron Brackenridge concurs.
“From here on out, it’s pretty much like a playoff game,” he said, and he too emphasized the importance of a quick start and then some. “You’ve gotta start fast and you’ve gotta finish fast.”
Whereas the Riders are still trying to build some momentum, the Stamps are hoping to sustain it. Calgary is on a four-game winning streak.
“We’re a confident team,” Simpson said. “We’re confident in our abilities, but we know we still have to go out and we have to prepare because they’re a good team. They’ve shown it. In the games that we played, they were close and pretty evenly matched. We’ve got to make sure that we come out and we play well. We can’t slack off with the momentum that we have right now. We’ve got to keep that momentum going.”