Stamps reject 'favourite' tag

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

After an entire season as underdogs, the Calgary Stampeders proved yesterday they are now the prohibitive favourites.

Capping off one of the biggest second-half turnarounds in recent CFL history with a 43-23 thrashing of the Edmonton Eskimos, the Calgary Stampeders enter next Sunday's playoff do-over as arguably the CFL's team to beat.

"No we're not," said Nik Lewis, making a poor attempt to hide the obvious coming-of-age in Calgary.

"We like being underdogs. I don't want anybody to pick us until we win the Grey Cup. Pick us for next year."

Too late.

Dominating the Eskimos for the last 10 quarters they've played, the win was Calgary's seventh in its last eight games to close out the regular season.

Rewarding patient Stamps fans with a West semifinal game at McMahon Stadium Sunday ("An hour later, same place, same result," laughed MarTay Jenkins), the surging Stamps waited for the biggest game of the year to throw together their most complete effort. While Lewis's eight catches for 145 yards was impressive, it would've been tough to hand out a game ball if the Stamps were so inclined.

"I'd say it was the biggest game beginning to end," said Stamps cornerback Jermaine Chatman, who jumped on a Ricky Ray offering he took 67 yards to Edmonton's endzone to break a 22-9 game wide open.

"It was a collective effort from the offence, defence and special teams. We talked about how we hadn't put together a whole 60 minutes before and I believe we did that tonight."

And it was players like Chatman, Jenkins, Brett Ralph, Trey Young and Joey Boese who took turns making huge plays.

"It was refreshing to see some of the people that you don't necessarily talk about make plays," said first-year Stamps head coach Tom Higgins, humbled by the two-month turnaround that landed his club ahead of his former Alberta employer, in second at 11-7.

"A lot of things fell into place for us to be where we are today with home-field advantage next week. We feel we're definitely on a roll -- you couldn't ask for better."

Pegged by many as a head-to-head showdown between quarterbacks Henry Burris and Ray, the game was ultimately decided on the very same turnovers Burris used to hand out like candy on Halloween night. However, this time Ray was the one who gave up all the picks -- three in total -- as Burris went unblemished for the fourth straight week.

And while his 311 yards, three passing touchdowns and one rushing major bettered Ray's 228 yards, it was the Stamps offensive line that made it all happen by allowing Joffrey Reynolds to rush for 58 yards, opening up several possibilities.

"To rush for 132 yards (as a team) against a front seven like that -- that was the difference," said Burris, the hottest quarterback in the league with four straight wins.

"Everyone knows this is the key time to get hot. We're in the best position possible -- home game and Edmonton coming back here. That said, it's possible we can be overconfident if we don't pay attention to the little things that got us here."

Despite the fact Calgary has recently owned Edmonton and the first-place B.C. Lions have lost six of seven, Burris and Co. still pretend they're not a threat.

Truth is, they're clearly the team to beat in the west.

"I don't want that," smiled Stamps linebacker Brian Clark, whose colleagues capitalized on all Edmonton mistakes.

"I like how we're just laying in the weeds and sneaking up on people."

That's no longer possible.

Suddenly a Grey Cup is.


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