Stamps face daunting task

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:02 AM ET

When the Calgary Stampeders first looked at their schedule they must have thought they were seeing double.

In fact, they were.

The CFL club will play six back-to-back series in 2006 -- two-thirds of their 18-game schedule -- an oddball twist to an already taxing campaign.

Adding to their angst, the Stamps haven't won a back-to-back series since taking two in a row from the rag-tag Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2001, the Red and White's last Grey Cup season.

Granted, the Stamps fell on hard times after that title game but since then have played nine two-game combos without running the table. That spotty record includes falling to the Edmonton Eskimos in last autumn's West semifinal a week after knocking off the Esks in the season finale to claim home-field advantage.

Starting Saturday in Edmonton, the Stamps will again try to claim the back end of a two-game series, with the team offering a variety of reasons why sweep success is so hard to achieve.

"It's always tough to beat the same team twice and if you look at our schedule this year, we're going to have to do that a few times," explained tackle Sheldon Napastuk, not exactly revelling in the 24-14 win in the season-opener.

"This week we won the game but it wasn't because we outplayed the Edmonton Eskimos. We had more big plays than them, that's why we won. Our challenge this week is to step up our game and I don't think anybody in this locker-room has any illusions about how awesome we played, because we didn't. We did just enough to win and now we have to find a way to do it again."

Linebacker John Grace suggests the winning team can sometimes outsmart itself preparing for the return engagement. While on one hand there's no reason to fix what isn't broken, the wounded opponent is bound to revamp its game plan for the rematch. Something's got to give.

Last Saturday, the Eskimos offence offered a new look by moving the pocket, often keeping two backs in for pass protection.

"It's very tough because the team that wins and gets that first game under its belt, you don't want to reinvent yourself too much but still you want to add some stuff to your schemes," said Grace.

"It's a fine line between over-coaching and not doing enough to win the second game.

"We know they're going to go back to the drawing board and come out with something new. We don't want to do too much different because what we did worked.

"It's a hard thing for coach (Denny) Creehan to come up with a scheme for us for the second game. There's a real fine line, as opposed to seeing a new team every week and coming out and saying, 'This is what we do, let's see what they come back with.' We need to throw a few wrinkles in there but not too much."

Most players, like guard Jay McNeil, like to see a new opponent each week.

"Most guys don't like back-to-backs," says McNeil, a 13-year veteran of the squad.

"The coaches probably like it because they get to prepare for the same guys, so you maybe don't have to spend as much time breaking down stuff because it's already done ... but it's tough going against the same guys."


Photos