No whip needed for Horsemen

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

For the better part of a month, the Calgary Stampeders have played with a playoff intensity.

Whether they are facing the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a showdown for first place or facing a team well under .500, Stamps head coach John Hufnagel has his charges fired up to take the field.

This was never more apparent than Saturday night, when the Stampeders (11-5) whipped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 37-16 to cut their magic number to one.

Expect the Stampeders to be just as focused Friday when they travel to Hamilton to play the last-place Tiger-Cats.

Hufnagel has his team focused on the goal of top spot in the CFL's West Division, and the players have bought into his preachings.

"The tight race has a lot to do with it," Hufnagel said. "We know one loss wouldn't ruin the season, but it would be a deterrent to finishing in first place in the West.

"The last half of the season, our team has played consistent football. We do have a high character team, and the players prepare hard for each and every game. We have two more games before the tournament starts, and we need two more great efforts."

The Stamps can make the season finale at home against the B.C. Lions Nov. 1 meaningless with a win over the Ticats.

Clinching first would mean the Stamps would have three weeks between meaningful games, but that doesn't seem to be a problem with this team.

"It's a great way to get past the first round, isn't it?" said slotback Nik Lewis, referring to the first-round losses by the Stampeders three years running.

"The swag and the confidence of this team has grown. We're winning games we're supposed to win."

Whomever would visit McMahon Stadium for a West final showdown would be tagged as underdogs against Stampeders. By beating the Blue Bombers, the Stamps have now beaten every team in the CFL at least once.

Outside of a 37-16 Labour Day loss to the Edmonton Eskimos, the Stamps were close in every other defeat this season. In fact, they lost the other four games by a combined eight points.

It's no coincidence on Labour Day quarterback Henry Burris went down with a toe injury and the Eskimos pulled away.

Although the Stamps are as hot as any team in this league, keeping Burris healthy will be the key. Hufnagel wouldn't say if he would rest his quarterback in the final week if they beat the Ticats.

With a five-touchdown outing against the Bombers Saturday, Burris further made a case that he's a contender for CFL most outstanding player award.

Burris needs just two touchdowns to set a career-high for a single season, and he already passed his top mark in yardage by going over 300 for the 10th time.

It was also the second straight game Burris didn't turn the ball over.

"If there ever is a time for me to be playing my best ball, it's right now in crunch time of the season," Burris said. "We're trying to clinch things in the West and be on a roll heading into the playoffs."

The pivot agreed the Stamps are focused and have their foot on the gas, no matter the competition.

"It's what happened early on," Burris said. "We went into Winnipeg, and they got their first victory against us. When those things happen, they don't leave our house too quickly. It got on everybody's nerves.

"It's good to play like that -- playing our hearts out," Burris continued. "We have to be accountable for our actions on the field. We have to show up for each and every game.

"If we want to be the best, we have to play that way each time we step on the field."


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