Stampeders shrug off losses ahead of CFL West final versus Eskimos

By The Canadian Press
November 15, 2017 - 4:45pm

CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders are aware of the doubts. After all, they created them.

The team that finished first in the CFL with a 13-4-1 record doesn't have much momentum heading into Sunday's West Division final against the Edmonton Eskimos, who went 12-6.

Calgary has lost three games in a row for the first time since 2007, albeit three games that meant nothing in the standings.

The Eskimos ride a six-game win streak into McMahon Stadium, including a 39-32 division semifinal victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last Sunday.

The division final winner advances to the Grey Cup in Ottawa on Nov. 26.

Calgary safety Joshua Bell still likes his team's odds Sunday.

"After losing three in a row, you hear the doubters," Bell said Wednesday. "We gave them the doubt, right, by losing three in a row. Our job is to erase that doubt.

"How many people would put a bet down to say we're going to lose four in a row?"

The Stampeders have the edge on defence and special teams Sunday, but the offence is the question mark when compared to Edmonton's recent output.

The Eskimos have averaged 33 points per game in their last six.

Quarterback Mike Reilly kept the offence moving against Winnipeg utilizing receivers Adarius Bowman and Brandon Zylstra and running back C.J. Cable effectively.

And Calgary's sluggishness with the ball started long before the three-game losing skid.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has been playing through an undisclosed malady in his throwing arm this season, although he sat out the regular-season finale. A continuous rotation of injured receivers in and out of the lineup also contributed to Calgary averaging 23 points per game in their last eight.

The Stampeders rank last in the CFL in scoring percentage from the red zone — 20 yards out from the goal-line — and settled for field goals instead of touchdowns in several games in the season's second half.

What's promising for the Stampeders, however, is the bye week they earned by finishing first in the division afforded them time to rejuvenate and prepare their receiving corps, and thus give Mitchell more options Sunday in addition to star running back Jerome Messam.

It's been rare this season to have wideouts DaVaris McDaniels and Marken Michel and slotbacks Marquay McDaniel and Kamar Jorden on the field at the same time.

"I want to be as explosive as possible on the edge and also get our slots back to where they were at the beginning of camp," Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said.

"It has been a long time since that whole group has been together and hopefully if they are and running fast, we can make some plays."

Sunday's forecast for Calgary is promising with sunny skies and a high of 5 degrees.

The Stampeders beat the Esks in back-to-back games in September, but Edmonton prevailed 29-20 in their most recent meeting Oct. 28.

Mitchell believes the Stampeders will recover their winning form Sunday when it counts.

"It doesn't create any doubt in our heads. We're a confident football team," the quarterback said. "You can go ask any other team who finished first and there's only one answer to that question. We know who we are, we know what we have to do in order to get a win. We're going to go out there and do it."

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Marken Michel's surname in the wrong position.

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