Pesky 'coughs' gone

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:17 PM ET

The best thing to happen to Henry Burris all season long occurred the last time he faced the Edmonton Eskimos: He got injured.

Given a four-week break to recover from a torn thumb ligament suffered when slipping on Commonwealth Stadium's natural grass, the Stamps quarterback has since torn up the league, winning his last three starts.

Praising the time away for allowing him to "slow the game down" and be more patient, the man who coughed up the ball up with horrific regularity as the team built a 4-6 record has since avoided turnovers. And as Burris, Stamps head coach Tom Higgins or anyone with a passing interest in the team will tell you, the club's ability to protect the ball turned their season around, making today's second-place showdown possible.

"The break allowed him to re-energize, refocus and rethink how he played as a quarterback because his biggest knock was that he wasn't as secure with the football as he needs to be," said Higgins, whose 10-7 club would host a rematch against Edmonton in next week's West semifinal if it can win its seventh in eight games today.

"Now he's been as good as I've ever seen him play through this great run. And as your quarterback plays, so normally does your team."

If Burris can continue his brilliance with back-to-back wins over Edmonton over the next eight days, the Eskimos would also play witness to the best thing to happen to his career: Wins when they matter most.

"I really don't know what people judge me on but the bottom line is that in order for our team to have success, the quarterback has to show up in these type of games," said Burris, whose only playoff win as a starter came last year in Saskatchewan's West semifinal win over Edmonton.

"I know Ricky Ray does, Dave Dickenson does and all the great quarterbacks in this league do. If I want to be mentioned with those guys, I have to go out there and do the same and perform, especially in a big game."

Facing the league's most formidable defence, the heat on Burris will be turned up at McMahon Stadium for today's all-Alberta rubber match thanks to a front seven that has held Joffrey Reynolds to a humbling 22 yards on 18 carries. In other words, this one is all on Burris who has scrambled eight times for 57 yards against a team that's limited him to 27 completions on 59 attempts and just one touchdown. While Ray's numbers against Calgary dwarf those of Burris, the teams split their series 1-1, making today's season finale a perfect time for Burris to start asserting himself as one of the league's elite.

"Ricky Ray can throw for a million yards but as long as we win none of that matters," said Burris, on his showdown with one of the league's most successful quarterbacks.

"Each win brings bigger 'steaks' " added Burris before expanding on his play on words.

"We've got a 12 ounce this week against Edmonton and 16 ounce next week. We win that game we've got a 22 ounce and then a 30 ounce for the Grey Cup."

A third-stringer in Calgary when Jeff Garcia led the Stamps to Grey Cup glory, Burris has found it tough to chew on the fact he'll be one of just two starters in the playoffs who haven't 'earned' a ring.

"(Playoff success) means more money for certain guys in their pockets but for guys like myself, I just want to win a championship," said Burris, signed by Calgary largely because of a late-season surge in Saskatchewan last year that almost gave the Roughriders an upset win over B.C. in the West final.

"We've been the forgotten bunch here in Alberta and hopefully we can continue this winning streak against a great Edmonton team. To win a championship separates you from other guys. It's going to be windy and cold and you need to hunker down and concentrate."

And hold onto the ball -- something Burris has finally figured out.


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