The battle for playoff positioning in the CFL’s West Division kicks into high gear when the Calgary Stampeders host the B.C. Lions on Friday.
The Stampeders, Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders have all secured playoff spots, but order of finish will be determined in these final four weeks of the regular season.
Each week features a head-to-head matchup between two of them while the other faces the Edmonton Eskimos.
At 11-3, Calgary is the frontrunner to finish first in the West with the Lions and Roughriders chasing at 9-5.
The top team gets the division final at home Nov. 17 plus a week’s rest, while the second seed hosts the third seed in the semifinal Nov. 10.
“The good thing is it’s in our hands,” Stampeders quarterback Kevin Glenn said. “We don’t need help from anybody else. It’s set up for us pretty good. All we have to do is go out and handle our business now.”
The 3-11 Eskimos are at the bottom of the division. They have been all but mathematically eliminated from a crossover playoff spot in the East Division.
The combination of a Calgary win Friday and an Edmonton upset victory over the Roughriders on Saturday would translate to the Stampeders finishing no worse than second in the division and a home playoff date.
The Stampeders and Lions were 1-1 heading into the third of their four meetings this regular season. The two clubs close out the campaign against each other in Vancouver on Nov. 1.
“B.C. has a really good defence, but it’s important for us to establish dominance,” Stampeders running back Jon Cornish said. “If we want to win the West, we have to show to the other best teams in this league, Saskatchewan and B.C., we’re No. 1.”
Calgary downed the Lions 44-32 in the season opener, but lost 27-22 in Vancouver on Aug. 17.
“A lot of the things we looked at and discussed throughout the week was the last time we played this team,” Lions head coach Mike Benevides said. “This is an outstanding football team with tremendous balance. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.
“You can’t undersell the value of this game. It’s a huge game for both teams.”
Calgary is coming off a 38-11 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with Cornish running for a career-high 208 yards. The New Westminster, B.C., is 42 yards away from breaking his own record of single-season rushing yards by a Canadian running back.
B.C.’s running game stalled in a 31-17 loss at home to the Roughriders last week. The Lions mustered just 80 yards on the ground with their leading rusher Andrew Harris held to 10 yards on six carries.
Benevides took some of the blame for that low number upon himself, but Harris says the offence has to commit to the running game.
“The biggest thing is the want to,” the Winnipeg native. “The offensive co-ordinator has to want to do it, the offensive line has to want to do it and I have to be the guy who delivers and hits the holes and makes plays.
“The run game is very important and it’s something we need to catch fire on. Calgary is definitely a team we need to knock off.”
The Stampeders will get their first look at Lions quarterback Thomas DeMarco, who is 2-1 since Travis Lulay was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
DeMarco has averaged 221 throwing yards in his three games and has four touchdown passes. He was intercepted three times by Saskatchewan last week.
“Thomas DeMarco, I’m ready for him,” Stampeders sack leader Charleston Hughes said. “He’s a good quarterback. Is he ready for me is the question.”
Calgary’s depth at quarterback gives the Stampeders a distinct advantage over their western rivals down the stretch.
Glenn is 2-1 in three starts since returning from injury and 7-2 overall this season. Drew Tate will dress for a second game since his return from a throwing arm injury in Week 2. Waiting in the wings is Bo Levi Mitchell, who is 3-0 in starts this season.
Calgary had to plug injury holes at quarterback, at receiver, on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield this season. Now, it’s the special teams’ turn.
The Stampeders lost linebacker Alvin Bowen and running back Wilkerson DeSouza to anterior cruciate ligament knee injuries in the Winnipeg game.
Receiver Chris Bauman was on the verge of returning to the lineup after breaking a bone in his wrist during training camp, but also injured his ACL this week.
Running back Clifton Smith and linebacker Glenn Love were activated from the practice roster for this game. Linebacker Malik Jackson is rotating back into the lineup after a broken arm and may see time on special teams.
Notes: The Stampeders and NHL’s Flames have home games starting at the same time Friday in Calgary. The teams have the same ownership group. ... Temperatures are expected to hover near the freezing mark at McMahon Stadium for game time. ... Lions kicker Paul McCallum will play his 304th career regular season games and tie Paul Osbaldiston for sixth on the all-time list. ... At 95.3 per cent made, Calgary field-goal kicker Rene Paredes is on pace to break McCallum’s single-season record of 94.3. ... B.C. hasn’t lost two regular-season games in a row since July 2011.