CALGARY – The Calgary Stampeders have had one goal in mind since losing at home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2013 West Division final.
From the outset of training camp, the Stamps set their sights on winning the Grey Cup. They’ll now get that chance when they take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL title game Sunday at B.C. Place in Vancouver.
“When that game ended, it was a very serious mindset with our guys,” said Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell in regards to the 35-13 loss to the Riders on Nov. 17, 2013. “It’s tough when you know you have the talent, you know you have the best team in the league and you don’t finish it.”
Following that disappointing setback, the Stamps vowed to do everything they could to put themselves in a position to win their seventh CFL title and first since 2008.
“Honestly, we’ve had the recipe,” said linebacker Keon Raymond. “It’s just mixing the ingredients together to be able to get us to the point to where we want to be right now. Our goal from Day 1 in training camp was to make sure that we bring the Cup back to Calgary.”
The Stamps are now just one win away from accomplishing their mission thanks to a 43-18 win over the Edmonton Eskimos at McMahon Stadium on Sunday in the West Division final.
“Obviously we want to be happy about it, but it’s hard to be that happy when you know you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you to win the big one,” said Mitchell, who threw four touchdown passes and scored on a two-yard plunge across the goal-line in his first-ever playoff start against the Eskimos.
Veteran Calgary linebacker Juwan Simpson said the Stampeders are focused on finishing the job that they started.
“We just cleared another hurdle that we wanted to clear,” Simpson said. “Ultimately all of this means nothing if we don’t win the Cup.”
The Stamps finished the season with a league-best 15-3 record and earned a bye straight to the West final, while the Ticats finished atop the East Division with a 9-9 record before downing the Montreal Alouettes 40-24 at home on Sunday to earn a berth in their second straight Grey Cup game.
“We’re playing a very good tough, football team,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to buy into it, man. This is all we have. For the next seven days, I’m going to live, breathe, eat, sleep Hamilton … make sure I know every single thing about them.”
Despite playing in only half of Calgary’s regular-season games, Jon Cornish ran for 1,082 yards to win his third straight rushing title. While the Eskimos held him to 54 yards rushing on 14 carries, Cornish had 120 receiving yards on four catches including a highlight-reel play where he caught a shovel pass from Mitchell and ran the rest of the way for a 78-yard score.
“Absolutely, if we lose this Grey Cup, that wouldn’t be very fun,” said Cornish, who didn’t play in either of Calgary’s two wins against Hamilton in the regular season. “I don’t think that anybody has that ambition. Everybody that’s going to be on this plane (on Tuesday) is going to be going there for one reason.”
Raymond, Mitchell and Cornish are among a group of several Stampeders who remember the sting of losing 35-22 to the Toronto Argonauts in the 2012 CFL championship game at Rogers Centre.
“I think I was so overwhelmed by the 100th Grey Cup,” admitted Raymond, while adding that he’s humbled to get the opportunity to play in his second title game in three years. “I remember that feeling, leaving that hotel room in 2012, and that’s not a feeling I want to feel again just like that feeling last year in the West final.
“We want to make sure we finish and do the little things we can preparation-wise. Honestly, I think the mindset of this team is different. I think guys understand what’s at stake.”
Although the Stamps are favoured by more than a touchdown to beat the Ticats, Calgary coach and general manager John Hufnagel cautioned that his players will have to remain focused on the task at hand amid all the hype surrounding the Grey Cup festivities.
“I know we had a good attitude the last two weeks preparing for the Western final and I think our play showed that,” Hufnagel said. “We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played a good solid game and we came out with a big win. We need to keep the same focus in a difficult week because the Grey Cup is different.”
When asked to describe the performance of Hamilton kick-returner Brandon Banks, who ran back a pair of punts for TDs against Montreal, Hufnagel answered with one word.
“Wow,” responded Hufnagel. “He had an excellent game, but special teams coverage has been a strength of our football team. We just need to be strong on Sunday.”
Calgary’s defence will get its first look at Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed both losses to the Stamps in the regular season while recovering from concussion-like symptoms.
“Offensively they’ve been sparked since Zach came back,” Mitchell said. “He’s a very good quarterback and he plays the game with his heart on his sleeve. He’s fun to watch, so it’s going to be a tough game.”