CALGARY — Rest versus rust is the question for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders on Saturday.
Both CFL clubs are locked into their respective playoff berths which makes their regular-season finale at McMahon Stadium meaningless in the standings.
The Blue Bombers (11-2-0) have known since Oct. 23 they’ll host the West Division final Dec. 5, so they’ll play a second straight low-stakes game.
The Stampeders (7-6-0) secured a playoff berth last weekend. Calgary heads to Regina for the West semifinal Nov. 28 against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The semifinal victor faces the Bombers at IG Field for the right to play in the Grey Cup on Dec. 12 in Hamilton.
“There’s something to be said about momentum,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said Friday. “You want to be playing good football going into playoffs, so I think both of us realize that.
“We have to get better as a team. We’re not good enough now to win this. I want winning football which should translate into a win and cross our fingers we’re as healthy as possible at the end of the game.”
An injury-free victory Saturday is a best-case scenario for each club, but that’s difficult to pull off in a collision sport.
“It’s hard to stay healthy in football,” Bombers receiver Kenny Lawler admitted.
The Bombers listed quarterback Zach Collaros, who didn’t play in last week’s 28-14 loss to the Montreal Alouettes, as “questionable, not injury related” for Saturday.
Backup Sean McGuire threw for 149 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions in his first CFL start in Montreal, but he’s out with a groin injury.
That leaves Dru Brown making his Bombers’ debut whether he starts or draws in after Collaros plays a few series.
Stampeder quarterback Mitchell went the distance in a 33-23 victory over the B.C. Lions last week as Calgary earned a playoff berth for a 16th straight season.
He’s expected to start Saturday. Backup Jake Maier threw for 300 yards in each of his first three CFL starts when Mitchell was sidelined with a broken leg early in the season.
The Bombers activated Collaros, halfback Nic Taylor, safety Brandon Alexander, defensive tackle Steven Richardson and right guard Pat Neufeld for Saturday after they sat out the game in Montreal.
Calgary’s leading rusher Ka’Deem Carey, receiver Malik Henry, defensive end Shawn Lemon and defensive tackle Mike Rose won’t play Saturday, but the Stampeders will at least start many regulars.
“We did definitely leave guys off and some guys that I felt like were big contributors to our team, but I also wasn’t quite sure what I had at the backup position and so let’s look at the backup position, give those guys some reps so that we now maybe have more depth and have a team I feel more comfortable playing with if in some cases guys have to play,” Dickenson said.
“I am going to try to play everybody that’s suited up offence, defence, obviously they should get special teams. How much is going to be game-dictated and also just a feel thing for me.”
Saturday’s meeting is a statement game for the playoffs, according to Lawler.
The CFL’s leader in receiving yards is 27 away from a 1,000-yard season. Lawler would be the first Bomber since Milt Stegall in 2002 to top the league in that category.
“It’s really about setting the tone, putting that physicality on tape that you know, going into these next weeks, we are them guys, we are the dogs that’s going to get after whoever we play,” Lawler said.
“We want to put that on film that you’re going to come into this stadium Dec. 5, and you’re all going to get what’s coming to you. You’re going to get a physical game. They’re going to know that through what we put on that film.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shortening the CFL season and pushing it later into the calendar year has Calgary and Winnipeg concluding their regular seasons on what would be division final weekend most other years.
Winnipeg’s Richardson hoped for snow Saturday at McMahon, but the forecast is mostly sunny with temperatures below freezing.
“It’s really fun when it starts to snow because you can take advantage as a defence with the ball being slippery,” Richardson explained.
“I prefer, if it’s going to be cold, then be cold for a reason. Show me some snow. If we get a snow game, I’m all about it.”
Notes: Winnipeg edged visiting Calgary 18-16 on Aug. 29 in their other meeting this season … The Stampeders are 16-2 against the Bombers at McMahon dating back to 2003.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press