Stamps all set for wild tilt

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Before last season's first meeting was 15 minutes old, Nik Lewis pancaked Cam Wake, leaving the defender in the dust to set a physical tone.

There was no secret to the Calgary Stampeders' game-plan against the big, bad B.C. Lions.

Pound them physically, wear them out mentally.

It worked. The Stamps won that game and three more to roll to the Grey Cup title.

In tonight's first meeting of the 2009 season (8:30 p.m., TSN), the Lions are obviously without Wake, who left for the NFL after winning a second-straight defender-of-the-year crown.

But the Stamps will be without Lewis, who will miss a game for the first time in his pro career, due to a hip injury.

"Nik isn't just a catcher. He goes down there and makes big blocks," said Stamps receiver Ken-Yon Rambo.

"As a receiver, that's the all-around game. We're losing one of our pitbulls ... so this is a blow to the offence."

The players who are in action know this will be a physical battle.

The Lions plan on being the aggressors to set a different tone and try to take the Stamps off their pedestal as West Division powerhouses, which they stole from B.C. a year ago.

"Since I've been here, that was the only game where I can say we were physically beat up," Lions receiver Paris Jackson said about the 2008 opener.

"Physically and mentally, we were beat up. Other years, we found ways to lose a game or let it slip away. It was always close, but we didn't execute at the right time. In that first game, we were just beaten."

The battle continued until the Lions' season was over. In the West final, the war along the line of scrimmage was intense, and the Stamps came out on top, especially in the case of Mike Labinjo.

The then-defensive end stuffed the Lions repeatedly on the goal-line.

Although Labinjo has moved to tackle, the Canadian wants to keep up with the smash-mouth attack.

"With B.C., you have to be the more-aggressive team," Labinjo said. "They are always the bullies of the division. They try to physically intimidate you and beat you up.

"Last year, we didn't back down and instead took it to them. That was the biggest difference in sweeping them."

Last August, the Stamps marched into B.C. Place and won 36-29 to break a seven-game losing skid in the dome.

This year, the Lions are coming off an upset loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their home-opener and are starting a quarterback, Buck Pierce, who left a win last week in Edmonton with a mild concussion.

Pierce was declared the starter early in the week when he had no further symptoms, and the fifth-year CFLer wants the team to get back to days when B.C. Place was a difficult place to play.

"It's very important for us to be on the right track," Pierce said.

"It's important to win your home games because it's tough to win on the road."

Both of these teams started off the 2009 season slowly, as the Stamps lost to Montreal and Winnipeg and the Lions to Saskatchewan and Hamilton.

But both got on track with wins last week in decisive fashion. Still, one team will be 1-3 after this game (barring a tie).

The Lions certainly don't want to get lose a fifth straight time to the Grey Cup champs.

"That's really sticking with us," Paris Jackson said.

"They were holding the trophy up at the end of the year. They are in the West Division and we lost to them in the West final.

"That's put a bitter taste in my mouth and a lot of guys, because we hate losing. We're not used to it."


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