For Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders, it’s all about finish and punching their ticket as one of the best teams in CFL history.
Mitchell leads Calgary into its Grey Cup showdown Sunday at BMO Field against the Ottawa RedBlacks. After posting a league-best 15-2-1 mark – finishing one victory short of the single-season record – the Stampeders can put an exclamation mark on their outstanding campaign with a championship.
On paper, the game looks one-sided. Ottawa (8-9-1) finished atop the East Division as the first CFL team to take a division title with a sub-.500 record and was 0-1-1 versus Calgary this season.
Not surprising, Calgary opened the week as a nine-point favourite, an advantage that will likely stretch to double-digits before the opening kickoff. But Ottawa thrived as the underdog in the East Division final, downing Edmonton 35-23 to improve to 3-0 this season against last year’s Grey Cup champion.
Edmonton holds the CFL record for most wins in a season (16) registered in 1989. But the Eskimos couldn’t close the deal, losing 32-31 in the West final to Saskatchewan (9-9). The Riders followed that up by downing Hamilton 43-40 in the Grey Cup at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre).
Mitchell and the Stamps also don’t have to look far to find Grey Cup disappointment. After finishing second in the West with a 12-6-0 record, Calgary lost 35-22 to Toronto (9-9) before more than 50,000 spectators in the 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre.
And there’s also the matter of a determined Ottawa squad looking to register the biggest upset in Grey Cup history to make up for last year’s 26-20 loss to Edmonton. But victory won’t come easily for the RedBlacks.
Mitchell, the overwhelming favourite to win the league’s outstanding player award, leads a high-powered Calgary offence that led the CFL in scoring, allowed the fewest sacks and boasted the league’s top rusher in Toronto native Jerome Messam (1,198 yards, 5.8-yard average, 11 TDs).
But it’s Mitchell who makes the unit go. He was second overall in passing (5,385), tops in TD strikes (32) and after last weekend’s playoff 42-15 win over B.C. and comes in with an impressive 44-7-1 career record as a CFL starter.
The Stampeders’ defence wasn’t exactly chopped liver, either. The unit was the CFL’s stingiest and also featured the league’s top sack artist in defensive end Charleston Hughes (16).
But Calgary will have to contend with a different quarterback this time around. Trevor Harris started both regular-season games against the Stampeders but veteran Henry Burris, the CFL’s outstanding player last season, will be under centre Sunday.
Burris, in his 17th CFL season, is a two-time Grey Cup champion (the last being in ’08 with Calgary) and will appear in his third CFL title game in four years. And even at age 41, Burris still has the ability to escape the pocket to either buy his receivers time or take off upfield.
And in the windy, snowy conditions Sunday at TD Place, Burris threw for 246 yards and two TDs. Also, sophomore Kienen Lafrance, replacing injured starter Moissis Madu, ran for 157 yards and a touchdown against the Eskimos.
Ottawa also boasts four 1,000-yard receivers (Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson), the first time in CFL history four players with the same team have recorded consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. However, Williams (knee) won’t play.
Mitchell is also chasing his own place in Calgary’s history as no quarterback has ever led the Stampeders to two Grey Cup titles. Mitchell’s first came in 2014 when the club defeated Hamilton 20-14 at B.C. Place.
And it’s hard to bet against Mitchell leading the Stampeders to their second CFL crown in three years and firmly establishing themselves as one of the best teams in league history.
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