Playoffs still the priority

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

EDMONTON -- The Stampeders weren't shy about stating team goals when the franchise was retooled prior to the season.

After signing a handful of precious free agents, a very reasonable priority list included qualifying for the playoffs, preferably at home.

While a respectable .500 campaign would have soothed the rankled nerves of fans still reeling from the dreadful Feterik era, some players, management (and media) were convinced the signing frenzy in February would deliver much loftier numbers and a playoff date this fall, possibly even a West Division showdown at McMahon Stadium.

Scratch those plans should the Stamps lose to the Eskimos tonight for the second time in 96 hours.

The 25-23 Labour Day loss coupled with another defeat at Commonwealth would lock up the season series for the Eskimos, dashing any legitimate hopes the Stamps harbour of finishing second and hosting the division semifinal.

The 4-6 Stamps trail the second-place Eskimos (7-3) by six points and must win tonight to secure any hope the season finale Nov. 6 at McMahon Stadium will determine playoff venues.

In fact, just seeing football in November is becoming a dodgy proposition for Stamps fans now that the club has entered a two-game tailspin leaving them tied with Saskatchewan.

The importance of tonight's game isn't lost on free-agent acquisition Jeremaine Copeland, the Stampeders' leading receiver with 828 yards.

"To have a chance to host a game, we have to win here but the key is to finish strong just to get into the playoffs," Copeland says.

Veteran o-lineman Jay McNeil has lived through three straight seasons without a playoff berth. Although winning tonight to keep a home playoff date alive remains a priority, survival mode is kicking in.

"It's a big game but, more importantly, we've lost two in a row and now we have to get back on track," McNeil says.

"We have to play Edmonton two more times and they're in our way if we want to win the Grey Cup.

"If we lose this game, our chances of hosting a playoff game are out but it goes beyond that. At this point, we just need a win. Monday was a humbling game for us and hopefully we'll come out ready to go (tonight)."

While the Stampeders still like to think they are in a class with first place B.C. and tonight's hosts, Eskimos linebacker Singor Mobley thinks his squad is destined to create more separation from the Stamps in the standings.

"Earlier in the season, a lot of teams, Saskatchewan too, predicted they would be good teams this year," Mobley said.

"And I'm not saying the Stamps are not a good team. They have a lot of talent over there and they're very capable. But I do know they have to play us three times ... when it comes down to it, we are the better team."

Although some Eskimos were frosted when Stamps receiver Nik Lewis insisted after Labour Day the Eskimos are "an all right team, not a good team," cornerback Davis Sanchez wasn't fazed.

"We're not a great team -- 9-0 is a great team like B.C. -- but we want to be a great team at the end of the season," says Sanchez.


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