Playoffs still possible

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Every year, the same adage gets tossed around like a football leading into the Labour Day Classic.

If the Stampeders can win that one annual grudge match against the despised Edmonton Eskimos, the cliche suggests, the CFL season is a roaring success.

Every other indiscretion or failure will be forgiven.

It's a load of bull, obviously, magnified when the home side loses as it did yesterday, 25-23.

The booing from restless Stamps supporters started before the team could even trudge off the field at halftime, staring at a 20-1 deficit and an opponent that looked unstoppable.

Although the Stampeders roared back in the final 30 minutes to provide an exciting, if somewhat demoralizing finish, the regular season pinnacle favoured the Eskimos for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Now what?

Unbelievable as it may seem in the aftermath of the loss, the sky isn't falling.

Pre-season chatter about this team competing for first place in the CFL West was clearly offside but a playoff berth was a reasonable expectation and that still exists. The Stamps are tied for third place with a rematch against the Eskimos slated for Friday night in Edmonton. And the final eight games of the schedule look favourable.

Depending on your perspective, the Stampeders either 'get to' or 'have to' do it all over again in just three more sleeps.

Minutes after the frustrating loss, Stamps such as receiver Nik Lewis were already talking about the next game.

"This was a big game for the fans and we blew it but we get two more shots at Edmonton and I think we can beat them -- I know we can beat them," said Lewis, who had just two catches for 31 yards.

"They're an all right team but I don't think they're a good team. I think they're all right and I think we'll go up and beat them."

The Eskimos were better than all right in the first half, with QB Ricky Ray posting 245 yards of total offence. A blocked-punt touchdown fuelled a healthy advantage at the break.

On the other side of the ball, the Stamps offence was dreadful in the opening half.

Receiver Jeremaine Copeland said the Red and White offence's lack of execution has become a frustrating puzzle that has to get solved.

"You can't explain it, we've just got to get it going fast from the first quarter," said Copeland, who finished with four catches for 93 yards but also dropped a long pass.

"There's lot of reads we've got to take care of and block up front so Hank doesn't have to scramble so much. We've got to make plays when the ball comes in our areas. We've got to get our game together for four quarters and until we do that, we're not going to win a game.

"We're real close ... now it's a matter of going into this rematch Friday in Edmonton with the mindset of expecting to win. We need to go in there and do it."

Quarterback Henry Burris, whose offence struggled mightily in the opening 30 minutes, producing just 65 total yards, was still shaking his head afterwards over his team's multiple miscues.

How could an offence with so much upside sputter so bad coming out of the gate?

"You make mistakes, you don't move the ball, it's that simple," Burris shrugged.

"They're a good defence but we made them look much better than they are. All phases in the first half -- passing game, running game -- we hurt ourselves with penalties or didn't make a play or throw or a block. It was always something here or there, somebody always made a mistake."

Burris provided a tantalizing taste in the final 30 minutes of how good this team can be with quick strikes to Copeland, setting up one third-quarter TD, and another 61-yard TD strike to Brett Ralph in the fourth.

Naysayers will tell you the sky is falling but the Stampeders still have legitimate playoff hopes.


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