Experience may prove invaluable

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

If the 2006 Calgary Stampeders faced last year's edition of the Red and White in a winner-take-all showdown, who'd win?

Even though the '05 Stamps recorded one more victory, most players feel they fielded a stronger team this season.

"Our record's not as good and we've had some issues obviously this year but I think this group would beat last year's team," argued veteran Stamps o-lineman Jay McNeil, whose 10-8 club fell from an 11-7 mark last season.

"I think we're a better team.

"We're better at receiver, Henry (Burris, quarterback) and Joffrey (Reynolds, running back) understand the system better, the offensive line has been together one more year and our defence is still playing well.

"We all understand the system better and we all have playoff experience now."

Those lacking post-season battle scars received plenty last November, courtesy of the Edmonton Eskimos, who marched onward to the Grey Cup title.

The upstart Stampeders entered the CFL playoffs a year ago with plenty of swagger, riding a wave of seven wins in the final eight regular-season games, only to lose to the visiting Eskies.

Heavily favoured that day, the Stampeders fumbled the ball away three times while Burris tossed a pair of interceptions.

The Stamps blew a 23-12 halftime lead in losing 33-26, a nightmare many players feel will make them better when they host Saskatchewan in the West semifinal Sunday.

"It's hard to compare the teams," said veteran slotback Jeremaine Copeland, although the dispersal of the Ottawa Renegades may have created more parity this season.

"Last year's team had a better record than we did this year but we've got a greater home-field advantage this year.

"We've got the potential to be better when we go out and execute."

Living through last November's loss, Copeland argues, makes the new edition of the Stampeders a more pressure-tested outfit.

"It's automatically an edge but we've still got some young guys who are new coming into this game," said Copeland, who won his only Grey Cup with Montreal in 2002.

"It's up to the veteran guys to step up, lift those guys on our backs and make us a better team for this playoff game.

"If we avoid turnovers, we'll win this game, without question."


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