Bo Levi Mitchell’s return to the Calgary Stampeders isn’t good news for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Mitchell will make his third straight start Saturday when Calgary (7-4) plays host to Hamilton (9-2) on Saturday night. Mitchell missed seven starts with a torn pectoral muscle, but returned to lead the defending Grey Cup champions to a sweep of the Edmonton Eskimos in the club’s past two games.
That boosted Mitchell’s record as a CFL starter to 72-16-2, the 72 regular-season victories being a Calgary club record. More impressive, Mitchell is 11-0 lifetime against Hamilton. Since 1961, the Stampeders are 38-9 at home against the Ticats, and 65-31 over all.
Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer played down the significance of facing Mitchell for the first time this season.
“It’s the next game on the schedule,” he said. “Whoever they have lined up at quarterback, running back, tailback, punt returner, it’s the Calgary Stampeders against the Tiger-Cats.
“I’m looking forward to playing and putting this media stuff behind us.”
Mitchell was sidelined in the first meeting this season between the two clubs, which Hamilton won 30-23 at Tim Hortons Field on July 13. Special-teams touchdowns by Will Likely (110-yard kickoff return) and Brandon Banks (115-yard missed field-goal return) anchored the Ticats’ victory.
Calgary’s Reggie Begelton leads the CFL in receiving with 66 catches for 930 yards and seven touchdowns. Banks held the top spot after Hamilton’s Labour Day victory over Toronto, but now stands third with 65 receptions for 862 yards and five TDs.
Begelton and Hamilton’s Bralon Addison are tied for the league lead in receptions. Hamilton must also be aware of Calgary running back Ka’Deem Carey, who ran for 143 yards on 16 carries in the Stampeders’ 25-9 Labour Day win over Edmonton.
Incumbent Jeremiah Masoli was under centre for Hamilton in the first meeting against Calgary. But Dane Evans starts Saturday after Masoli suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 23-15 home win over Winnipeg on July 26.
Hamilton is 4-1 with Evans at quarterback and riding a four-game win streak over all. The Ticats are coming off a bye week after Evans finished 31-of-37 passing – completing 19 straight attempts at one point – for a career-high 442 yards with two TDs in the club’s 38-27 Labour Day victory over Toronto.
Evans also ran for 42 yards and a TD on four carries.
Steinauer said Evans’s Labour Day performance hasn’t boosted the Ticats’ expectations of their young quarterback.
“It’s more important we go out there and get a win,” Steinauer said. “Obviously we’d like Dane to play well, we’d love for Speedy [Banks] to play well, we’d love for the defence to throw a shutout.
“Those probably aren’t realities, but it’s most important to go out there and find a way to win.”
Especially considering Hamilton begins a stretch of four straight games against West Division rivals. The Ticats will also visit Edmonton and Winnipeg before playing host to Edmonton on Oct. 4.
Hamilton is currently atop the East Division, six points ahead of second-place Montreal (6-4), which visits Saskatchewan on Saturday night.
“Dane is moving around and doing some of the same things,” Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson said. “He’s growing into his own person and his own quarterback.
“They’re jelling a little bit, to me they’re playing pretty good right now, so our defence will have its hands full.”
Added Steinauer: “He [Evans] needs to manage the game and do what he does. I think for the most part it’s not [putting] expectations [on him] to think he has to repeat last week’s performance. What he has to do is take what the defence is giving him, execute the game plan we have. Those are our expectations of Dane, and however that ends up, hopefully [it’s] with points on the board.”
Defensive back Tunde Adeleke and defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis will make their first appearances in Calgary since helping the Stampeders win the 2018 Grey Cup. Adeleke had a team-high seven tackles and another on special teams in the first meeting, while Davis had three tackles and a sack.
Calgary defensive back Courtney Stephen faces his former team for the second time. The native of Brampton, Ont., spent his first six CFL seasons in Hamilton before joining the Stampeders as a free agent and had a special-teams tackle at Tim Hortons Field.
The good news for Hamilton is all-star defensive tackle Ted Laurent returns after missing time with a lower-body injury. The 6-foot-1, 299-pound Laurent will bolster the Ticats’ defensive front.
“Teddie is a proven guy,” Steinauer said. “When you single him, we expect Teddie to win, he expects that of himself.
“He’s just a staple of what helped us get this thing started a little bit. He’s part of the foundation … it’s Teddie’s time to come back and play at the level of an All-Pro, like he is.”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (9-2) at Calgary Stampeders (7-4)
Saturday, McMahon Stadium
HOME COOKING: Calgary has won 14 in a row against the Ticats at McMahon Stadium.
APPROACHING MILESTONE: Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence needs four more tackles to reach 500 for his career. He is fourth among active players.
RECORD WATCH: Stampeders linebacker Cory Greenwood leads the CFL with 77 defensive tackles. He’s on pace to beat Alex Singleton’s club record of 123.
ALBERTA TRIP: The Ticats will stay in Calgary after the game and practise in the city before departing Sept. 19 for Edmonton, where they play the Eskimos the following day.