'Time to step up'

Jay McNeil. (SUN/Kevin Udahl)

Jay McNeil. (SUN/Kevin Udahl)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

The schedule confirms it's merely Game 8, not even the midway point of the CFL season.

Yet in the Calgary Stampeders' brains, it's playoff time, or at least the closest a regular-season game comes to duplicating post-season pressure.

"In the standings it's just another game but, in our heads, it's the most important game of the year," said Jay McNeil, whose 3-4 Stamps host the 3-3 Saskatchewan Roughriders tonight (5 p.m. McMahon Stadium).

"We're focused. We watched film today as an offence, the total group, and usually there's a little bit of talking and joking going on, which is fine. But this time it was dead silent. Everybody was paying attention to what we had to know, had to learn. I think that's a great sign. Guys are focused for this game."

Confidence has been sliding as quickly as the team has slipped down the CFL West standings after three straight losses.

Adding to the magnitude of the rematch with the Roughies is that tonight's clash is the deciding game in the all-important season series, points out Sheldon Napastuk.

Season sets are the first tie-breaker in the tight West Division, where the final game of the season may be needed to determine playoff positions.

"One of the biggest reasons for us is it's really time to step up, to start making the plays because we're running out of time in the season," said Napastuk, tired of frittering away opportunities.

"We've got to get it turned around right now and start playing the football we expect from ourselves.

"This one's big for the obvious reasons -- we're 1-1 in the series with a Western opponent and a tight division, it's important to get that advantage."

Henry Burris, the former Roughriders pivot now expected to make hay running the Stamps offence, looks forward to an intense game, heightened by the presence of some 12,000 Saskatchewan fans.

"This will have a playoff atmosphere ... if we lose this one, we don't want to put ourselves any further behind than we already are," Burris said.

"We want to make sure, when we leave this game, we want to put in the back of their minds that they can't beat us. They want to do the same to us but in our hearts we feel we're better than they are."

Lose and not only would they find themselves sliding farther down the West standings, up next are back-to-back games with the undefeated Montreal Alouettes.

It makes the urgency of getting the team back on the rails that much more crucial.

"We need this one to get back on track, get the winning feeling back again," McNeil added.

"We are going to play a good Montreal team next week and a win now would boost our confidence.

"You'd be exaggerating a little bit to call it a 'must-win' game but it's an important game more for our own psyche as a team and to get back on the right track and end this three-game skid. It's not do-or-die by any means."

For Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins, the man tasked with finding the answers to the team's current skid, it has been a strenuous week.

Questions abound as to why his team continues to underachieve while a win would solve many of those problems.

"It's been a long week for us," Higgins said.

"You don't want it to be any longer. Because we haven't played as well as we're capable of, it makes the week longer. We haven't put a string together.

"I'm pleased we're going to play (tonight) and we'll show our fans what they are expecting to see, which is a well-oiled, well-disciplined football team that goes out and, after 60 minutes, the scoreboard is in our favour."


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