Back-ward thinking?

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Thousands of school children around the city this week resumed their quest to learn the three Rs -- reading, writing, 'rithmatic.

The Calgary Stampeders also were re-taught a similar lesson: Regroup, reload, rebound.

Feel free to give them a gold star for recovering from a Labour Day debacle to drop the Edmonton Eskimos 38-33 Friday night.

The ability to battle back from adversity is key to succeeding as the CFL season heads to the home stretch and the quest for the Grey Cup.

"We've probably had a few of those games where we've had adversity and come back and played a good game," said head coach John Hufnagel yesterday. "Going out to Montreal and winning that one. Going to Saskatchewan after losing here.

"It's good see the team has the ability to respond. You'd like to have to not have to respond so many times during the season."

Therein lies the rub.

This year's Stampeders have proven to be adept at redeeming themselves after a dud of an outing. However, one of the quests for this squad will be to find that killer instinct before being backed into a corner.

Otherwise, it won't be a championship team.

Hufnagel isn't the first bench boss to go grey trying to figure out what exactly will light the fire under his troops.

At least he has some theories.

"It's a maturity process, number one. Understanding what it takes to win," Hufnagel said. "You've got to find a way to turn the switch on, and as a professional player, you're the person that turns the switch on. The coaches and so forth put a plan together and maybe can do some motivational sentences, but they have to prepare themselves from the beginning of the week to do what they need to do on game night."

Potentially, there were some lessons learned in their victory in Edmonton.

For starters, winning football teams are physical. They own the line of scrimmage and will themselves upon the opposition when it becomes a smash-mouth affair.

Even though the Stamps and Eskimos combined to put 71 points on the board, it wasn't a finesse affair.

"It was a real physical game, but I can't say it was a truly well-executed game," Hufnagel said. "You can't say that when your first snap ends up in their hands and they score a touchdown. I think if you asked Danny (Maciocia, the Eskimos head coach), he'd say, 'Well, we had too many drops' and so forth.

"I can't say it was a well-executed game, but it was a very physical game and a very emotional game, and it was an exciting game."

Finding the emotional level needed to play that tough every game can go a long way.

Another key was the Stamps' ability to stay focused on the task at hand after a putrid start -- when quarterback Henry Burris mishandled an off-line snap only to see the ball returned by Eskimos' Shannon Garrett into the endzone.

Instead of panicking, the Stamps' offence promptly marched the ball all the way down the field on its next chance and reset the scoreboard to even.

In turn, the defence set a tone of its own the first time the Esks had offensive possession with a pair of sacks and forced fumble.

"That's good stuff," Hufnagel said. "We've talked about that all year long, about facing adversity and the peaks and valleys of a game and a season and being able to handle that. If we want to be any good -- and the jury is still out -- if we want to become good, we have to handle those situations on a consistent basis."

Now the question is where the Stamps go from here.

They certainly have a golden opportunity to ride the momentum of a big win all the way to the playoffs thanks to a schedule loaded with games against the East Division, and those teams have all been smacked around by their western brethren.

Friday's clash with the Montreal Alouettes at McMahon Stadium is the start of a schedule loaded with dates against cream-puff East teams: A home-and-home with the Toronto Argos, a host of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and playing in Hamilton. Sandwiched in there is another two-game set with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The opportunity to make hay is right before them, something receiver Jeremaine Copeland said after Friday's win he and his teammates intend to do.

"The first nine games are out of the way. We were 5-4 in the first half, but now it's the second half and it's a matter of what we want to do with it," Copeland said. "When we play a full 60 minutes, we can be one of the hardest teams to beat in this league, but if we don't, we're always going to leave those question marks over our heads."

INJURY UPDATE

Among the wounded are receivers Nik Lewis (ribs) and Ryan Thelwell (ribs). Lewis finished the game in obvious pain -- yet still made a fantastic and daring block downfield after it appeared he may be done for the game -- while Thelwell's night ended early.


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