No clear favourite in CFL West final between league-leading Stamps, surging Esks

CALGARY — Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson seems as curious as anyone to find out which team is going to be installed as the CFL Western final favourite.

Will it be Dickenson’s crew, which finished with the best record in the Canadian Football League, but dropped its last three regular-season dates? Or will it be the Edmonton Eskimos, who toppled the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West semifinal on Sunday?

It’s tricky business for oddsmakers.

“I’ll be interested in seeing what the betting line is,” Dickenson told reporters Monday at McMahon Stadium. “I know a lot of people surveyed will be taking Edmonton. And that’s OK. I certainly don’t feel like we’re going to go in as heavy favourites, which could, in our minds, maybe help.

“It’s going to be a dog fight. It’s going to be one of those games that I feel either team could win.”

The Battle of Alberta is slated for Sunday in Calgary, where local observers have been doing some serious hand-wringing. The Stamps’ three-game losing streak is their longest since 2007.

Nevertheless, Dickenson has faith in his group.

“We have to play with confidence,” he said. “You get confidence by executing and doing your job the right way. We had a little bit of a hiccup lately, but I’m certainly ready to play another game. I have faith that we’re going to play well … and keep the things that were causing us pain out of the plan — penalties, turnovers.”

In the coach’s mind, the afternoon’s outcome will be determined on three fronts — quarterback, defensive line, special teams.

The passers — Bo Levi Mitchell for Calgary, Mike Reilly for Edmonton — make this a marquee matchup.

No one threw for more yards (5,830) or touchdowns (30) this season than Reilly. Mitchell, as usual, finished among the CFL’s leaders.

“The last few years, Mike and Bo have been battling to see who that top guy is,” said Dickenson. “These two guys have been winning a ton of football games. Little bit different types of player, (but) both are winners. Both guys command respect. Also they are guys that seem to play best in big games.”

For the Stamps to prevail and advance to the Grey Cup in Ottawa, Mitchell & Co. need to generate touchdowns.

“You can’t settle for field goals,” said Dickenson, whose team collected a league-high 27 three-pointers from inside the 30. “That’s been one of our Achilles heels all year … we need touchdowns. If we get that, hopefully we win.”

History, however, dictates that it’ll be a coin toss.

In 23 playoff meetings, Edmonton has won 12, Calgary 11. They have split 12 Western final meetings.

“They’ve been one of the best teams, the last three, four years,” said Dickenson, whose club won two of three get-togethers this season. “We’ve had back-and-forth games with them almost every time. I think our teams match up fairly evenly.”

The Stamps’ biggest draw so far was Labour Day’s visit from the Eskimos, which was witnessed by a gathering of 33,731.

Dickenson would love to see McMahon Stadium crammed again.

“I think the fans are ready for a heavyweight tilt,” said Dickenson. “I know last year in the Western Final, that was as loud a crowd as we had all year – it helped our guys against B.C. (in a 42-15 win). I felt like the energy was there.

“It would be nice to really fill the building — it’ll keep everyone warm if it’s shoulder to shoulder up there – and see what we can do.”

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