CALGARY — For a team that had just clinched the CFL’s West Division, the Calgary Stampeders ran a businesslike practice Monday with little jubilation.
Temperatures below zero and snow on the ground wasn’t conducive to joie de vivre.
The reality is Calgary didn’t win the title, but backed into it when the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost 39-24 to the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday.
“The way we accomplished it doesn’t diminish the accomplishment itself,” countered Calgary head coach John Hufnagel, pointing out his team accomplished its pre-season goal of winning the west.
The Stampeders (11-5) now know they are hosting the West Division final Nov. 21 at McMahon Stadium, which lowers the stakes in their final regular-season games against Hamilton on Friday and Winnipeg next week.
But the Stamps can’t relax because they aren’t playing their best football of the season. After racing to the top of the division with a 9-1 record, Calgary is 2-4 in its last six games.
The Stamps alternated between abysmal and brilliant in a 36-31 loss at home to the B.C. Lions on Friday.
“Our team won’t relax because we know there’s so many things we need to work on,” quarterback Henry Burris said.
“Offensively we had a slow start and had a turnover in the first quarter, second quarter was brilliant, third quarter was here and there and the fourth quarter was here and there again. We can’t be a here-and-there team. We have to be consistent when we have the ball.”
Calgary has a dilemma now. The Stampeders don’t want to lose any starters to injury before the West final, yet need to sharpen their game for the post-season.
Hufnagel says he’s playing to win the final two games — meaning he’ll put his starting lineup on the field. But if Calgary manages to build a large lead in either game, expect to see backups out there.
“We’re going to do what we need to do to win two football games,” Hufnagel said. “If I have an opportunity to make some adjustments, I will do that.”
The Stampeders get to rest the week of Nov. 14, when Saskatchewan hosts either B.C. or Edmonton in the West semifinal. Calgary’s stars aren’t looking for time off before then.
“I always want to play every play, every snap. I always feel I need to,” Burris said. “I mean, we didn’t win this past game. We need to keep going until we get this thing right.”
Added receiver Nik Lewis: “I work too hard in the off-season to be sitting out games during the season. I’ve got six months to rest, so I’m going to make sure I have a happy six months of rest. That means we’ve got to go out there and win.”
“We get that week off, so that will be enough to rest and re-focus in on everything we need to do.”
Calgary will likely need a full complement of starters against the surging Tiger-Cats on Friday (TSN, 10 p.m. ET). Hamilton (9-7) shocked the East Division-leading Montreal Alouettes 40-3 last week.
The Stampeders want their last home game before the West final to be a victory after losing two of their last three at McMahon to the Lions.
“A hot team going into the playoffs is a dangerous team,” Lewis said. “We want to be that team. We want to make sure we’re coming out and winning at home. We’ve lost our last two home games and we want to re-establish our at-home dominance.”
The Lions have cried foul on Lewis’s ferocious block on B.C.’s Adam Leonard when Burris was running the ball in Friday’s game. Lewis shrugged it off.
“Hank cuts back and he (Leonard) can make the tackle,” he said in his defence. “It’s a thin line to say legal and illegal. He was right there by the play. It would be different if he was 15, 20 yards down the field. He wasn’t.
“I felt like he could have made a difference in the play so I’m going to do what I do. I’m going to protect my quarterback.”
Calgary receiver Arjei Franklin briefly had the winning touchdown pass in his hands Friday, but lost his balance and the football as he came down in the end zone.
“It’s nice to clinch first place. I would rather have done it with a game-winning touchdown, but that’s in the past now,” Franklin said. “Yesterday I was thinking about it a little bit, but I was really looking forward to practice today to catch some passes and get that one out of my system. Now, it’s officially gone.”
Hufnagel said Monday that defensive tackle Miguel Robede (concussion) was unlikely to play in Friday’s game.