Stampeders seek balance in regular-season finale

Stampeders head coach/GM John Hufnagel. (John Woods/CP)

CALGARY — Stay sharp, stay healthy and don’t show all your cards is the challenge the Calgary Stampeders will face in their final regular-season game.

The defending Grey Cup champions (13-4) close out on the road against the B.C. Lions (7-10) on Saturday. A win is desirable but impacts neither the standings nor the playoff picture.

The two teams will meet again in the West Division semifinal eight days later in Calgary, by far the most important contest. Both the Stampeders and Lions will manage the game and their rosters Saturday with that Nov. 15 playoff encounter in mind.

"We’ll try and do what we can to be flexible with the roster, but there’s only so much you can do," Calgary head coach/GM John Hufnagel said Tuesday at McMahon Stadium. "The approach is we’ll take 44 guys and try and win the football game.

"We can’t be concerned about injuries. Everybody that goes to the game will play."

Hufnagel wants all three quarterbacks to get reps Saturday, but is starting backup Drew Tate for the first time this season. Incumbent Bo Levi Mitchell says he’d be willing to go wire to wire, but understands the balance that must be struck.

"Whether or not I get in and get a lot of work, a little bit of work, I still don’t know yet," Mitchell said. "It’s always nice to get out there and throw a few passes, especially against a team you’re going to be playing (again)."

The semifinal winner advances to the division final in Edmonton against the Eskimos (14-4) on Nov. 22.

Edmonton is on an extended break as it finishes the regular season with a bye week. The Eskimos will have another week off while Calgary and B.C. prepare for the West Division semifinal.

Whether all that time off before a must-win game helps or hinders execution is certainly debatable. But Edmonton will certainly be a healthy and rested team by then.

The Stampeders lost starting defensive linemen Micah Johnson and Demonte Bolden to knee injuries two years ago in this very same scenario — a meaningless game in Vancouver to end the season. Calgary was upset in the division final by Saskatchewan, which went on to win the Grey Cup that year in Regina.

Saturday’s game gives new running back Jerome Messam more time to get more comfortable with Calgary’s offence.

Acquired on Oct. 14 from Saskatchewan, the six-foot-three, 245-pound Toronto native ran for 121 yards on 15 carries and scored a two-point convert in his Stampeder debut Saturday against his former team.

"Hopefully we can open up the playbook a little more with me this week and I can do some more productive things," Messam said.

Messam ranks second in CFL rushing with 947 yards and just 50 yards behind B.C.’s Andrew Harris. Jon Cornish, the CFL’s leading rusher three straight seasons, remains out of Calgary’s lineup with neck pain.

Calgary’s Eric Rogers is the CFL’s top receiver with 1,448 yards in his first full season in Canada. The 24-year-old needs 53 more yards to be the first Stampeder since Dave Sapunjis in 1995 to finish with over 1,500 receiving yards in a single season.

Stampeder co-captain and veteran middle linebacker Juwan Simpson participated in Tuesday’s no-pads practice. He hasn’t played since breaking his clavicle Sept. 25 in Winnipeg.

"I feel great, but I’m still on the six-game (injured list)," Simpson said. "This was my first week to get out and practice, but it felt good.

"I don’t feel there are any limitations whatsoever."

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