Stampeders, Blue Bombers prepare for frosty division semifinal

Bo-Levi-Mitchell

Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell looks on during first half CFL football action against the B.C. Lions, in Vancouver, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. The road to a fourth straight Grey Cup title will be a little longer than usual for Mitchell and the Stampeders. (Darryl Dyck / CP)

CALGARY — Mother Nature might have a say in how well Winnipeg runs the ball and Calgary throws it in the CFL’s West Division semifinal.

Snow and a windchill of minus-16 are in Sunday’s forecast for the afternoon kickoff at McMahon Stadium.

The winner takes on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in next week’s division final in Regina. The victor there represents the West in the Nov. 24 Grey Cup in Calgary.

The Stampeders won last year’s Grey Cup on slippery, icy turf in Edmonton and lost the championship in 2017 on a snow-covered surface in Ottawa.

The Blue Bombers are no strangers to challenging field conditions either.

"Poor weather kind of equalizes the game, so if you think you’re the better team, you do not want poor weather," Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said.

"But I think we’re equal anyway. I think we’re a very close matchup, so to me, I don’t really see an advantage either way."

Calgary (12-6) finished second in the division behind Saskatchewan (13-5) and ahead of third-place Winnipeg (11-7).

Winnipeg won two of three against Calgary in 2019 to take the season series. All three games were decided by four points or less and included a total of nine lead changes.

The Stampeders lean heavily on the arm of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who is 7-2 since returning from a pectoral muscle injury that had sidelined him for two months.

The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2018 has averaged 326 throwing yards per game and completed 66 per cent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in that span.

"I think since he’s come back from his injury, I think he’s played better than he’s ever played in his CFL career," Dickenson said.

"We haven’t been super-explosive offensively. We’ve been mixing and matching a lot of different people. We haven’t had that running game that we’ve leaned on many, many years. He’s taken over and won a lot of football games for us."

Driven by CFL leading rusher Andrew Harris (1,380 yards), the strength of the Bombers’ offence has been on the ground.

Quarterback Chris Streveler contributed to that success with 726 rushing yards before an ankle injury sidelined him.

The arrival of quarterback Zach Collaros — acquired Oct. 9 in a trade with Toronto and making his second straight start as a Bomber on Sunday — brings the passing option to Winnipeg’s attack.

"They don’t really throw a lot against us," Calgary interception leader Tre Roberson said.

"If we can get them into a game where they’re throwing the ball a lot, I feel like it works into our favour."

The Blue Bombers ended the regular season with a bye week. They face the Stampeders a third straight game after concluding their season with a home-and-home against Calgary.

So the Bombers are the more rested of the two teams and haven’t had to prepare for any other opponent for the last month.

"Both teams know each other well. I’d be hard-pressed to say it’s an advantage one way or the other," Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said.

"The bye week helps for rest. Three times in a row, you’ve just got to make sure you’re not making it too boring for the players.

"You can shorten a few things up here and there because you’ve already gone over it. There’s only so much film you can watch."

Calgary won 37-33 at home Oct. 19, when Streveler injured his ankle. Collaros threw a pair of touchdown passes the following week in a 29-28 win at Winnipeg’s IG Field.

"As soon as Zach kind of came in the huddle, there was instant respect," Harris said. "You know his history and how long he’s played the game, but you could tell there is a lot of experience there and a lot of confidence there."

The team that executes in potentially challenging conditions Sunday will extend its season and keep it bid for a Grey Cup alive.

"The one thing about weather is the ball does get a little bit more slippery, Mitchell said.

"There’s a decent amount more chances of the ball popping up in the air, slipping off a guy’s hands and into another guy’s. As quarterback, that’s my job to understand when to be smart and when to eat a sack."

CALGARY STAMPEDERS (12-6) VERSUS WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (11-7)

Sunday, McMahon Stadium.

MINUS MR. ROGERS: Calgary will be without receiver Eric Rogers, who has a career eight playoff touchdown catches on just 16 catches receptions. Receiver Kamar Jorden will play his first game since Sept. 3, 2018, when he suffered a catastrophic knee injury.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Stampeders middle linebacker Cory Greenwood of Kingston, Ont., will play Sunday after shoulder stingers put him on the six-game injured list. He led the CFL in tackles with 79 in his first 12 games of the season.

HOME COOKING: Calgary is 7-2 at home in 2019 and has won five straight playoff games at McMahon. Winnipeg is 3-6 on the road with its last away win Aug. 23.

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