CALGARY — Two weeks after Calgary had its season-opening winning streak snapped by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Stampeders get a chance to return the favour.
In what sets up the marquee game of the CFL schedule to date, Winnipeg (7-0) will put its unbeaten record on the line at McMahon Stadium on Saturday in a showdown against a hungry Calgary team (4-1) coming off a bye week.
"It's a big deal because we're playing the No. 1 team in the standings, and we want to be No. 1," said Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. "Our biggest thing is if we can take them down a notch, it helps us get to first place and possibly get the bye at the end of the year."
Two weeks ago, in the first of three meetings between the two sides, the Blue Bombers won 26-19 at IG Field. But the game was up for grabs right until the end. Stampeders wide receiver Kamar Jorden dropped a touchdown pass in the final minute that could have tied it. This time Calgary is on home turf for the first time in over a month.
"Everyone holds them to a standard," Calgary linebacker Jameer Thurman said about the reigning two-time Grey Cup champions. "We know what we did last game. We want to improve on that and get this win."
That respect exists on both sidelines.
"Every time we play them, they play hard, they play physical. You can't make a lot of mistakes and expect to win the game," said Winnipeg quarter back Zach Collaros. "So it's going to take a great effort and we're excited for it."
Offensively, the Bombers are middle of the pack in terms of production, ranking fifth in the league at 25.7 points per game. Where they're inflicting the most damage is on the defensive side of the football, allowing a league-low 16.3 points per game. Nobody else has allowed under 20.
"It's usually about who makes the least amount of mistakes," said Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill. "So this is a game, it's about going out and executing the way we can. So whoever plays a cleaner game, they're going to come out on top, especially in games like this when it's Winnipeg versus Calgary. It's two disciplined football teams that play physical and are well-coached."
Impacting Calgary's preparations this week were a couple different illnesses that crept into the locker room and sidelined six players including running back Ka'Deem Carey, offensive lineman Derek Dennis, and Thurman. But after missing a few days of practice each, all three are back and expected to start.
"I'm happy that the guys were able to overcome anything that they had. Now I gotta make sure they're doing the right thing and staying hydrated and getting their fluids," said Stampeders coach Dave Dickinson. "I'll probably have to mix and match a little bit more, just because I got to keep guys a little more fresh, they haven't practiced much."
The Blue Bombers will look a little different from two weeks ago. The most notable change is receiving threat Craig Ellingson (hip) will miss a second straight week. He ranks second in the league in receiving yards with 34 catches for 518 yards, including a massive game against the Stamps in week 6 in which he caught 11 of 14 targets for 152 yards and was named one of the CFL's three top performers.
However, in a move that took many by surprise, Winnipeg will welcome back Canadian slotback Nic Demski (ankle), who returns from the injured list despite not having practiced with the team since getting injured a month ago.
"I'm just ready to go, man. It's only been four weeks, but to me, it's felt like three months.” said Demski, a 28-year-old from Winnipeg. "I've been been testing it out, working it out, and we all feel as a group that I'm ready to go."
If the Stamps have designs on winning the Western Division, they realize they need this win. Otherwise, they're assured of losing the three-game season series and would trail Winnipeg by eight points.
"It's a big challenge, but we're at home and we're looking forward to the opportunity," said Dickenson.
Key, says Thurman, is doing a better job of containing Collaros and not letting him lead extended drives.
"Defensively, we've got to get off the field on second down," he said, reflecting on one of the trouble points in the first meeting. "We stayed on the field a little bit too long. I feel like if we make those corrections here, we'll come out with a win."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2022.
Darren Haynes, The Canadian Press