Saving the West for last

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

Forget the sputtering offence, the locker-room spat and the Thanksgiving Day dud in Montreal.

With four straight dates against division opponents -- including a pair of tilts against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, co-habitants of top spot in the standings -- the Calgary Stampeders can still script the ending to this year's instalment of How the West Was Won.

"We control our own destiny and we don't worry about the others, because at some point, we'll see the others," said Stamps quarterback Henry Burris.

"We've got all our Western opponents once and Saskatchewan twice, so as long as we control what happens in this locker-room and how we play on the field, we don't have to worry about what anybody else is doing."

Despite sleepwalking through nine consecutive quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown, the Stamps (8-6) are sharing a slice of first-place real estate with the Riders (8-6).

Whichever team wins Saturday's showdown at McMahon Stadium (1:30 p.m, TSN, QR77) will get the keys to the West Division penthouse all to themselves, at least for one week.

The B.C. Lions (7-7) and Edmonton Eskimos (6-8) are also in the mix, setting up what promises to be a thrilling finish. The Stamps entertain the Eskimos next Friday, travel to B.C. Place the following week and finish the regular-season slate with a visit to hostile Taylor Field in Regina.

"You really can't beat it, (facing) all Western opponents," said star slotback Jeremaine Copeland. "That's the schedule that you really want and that's the schedule that you've got to be fighting for.

"I don't think it could be any better. If you can't get fired up for this run, you can't get fired up for football."

The fire might've been there, but the Stamps were short on fireworks at Percival Molson Stadium on Thanksgiving Monday, failing to find the endzone in a 32-11 loss to the host Alouettes.

But, as head coach John Hufnagel was quick to remind his troops, few will remember the lacklustre performance if the Stamps can rebound and clinch another division crown.

"One of the things I said after the game (in Montreal) was it didn't matter at the end of the year the outcome of this game," said Hufnagel.

"It will be what we do in the next four games against West opponents. We need to go out and play good football. We understand the challenge ahead of us. We are facing some excellent teams who are after the same goal."

The Stamps returned to practice yesterday at McMahon Stadium and faced the media afterward, fielding many of the same questions as last week.

With their high-powered attack all of a sudden silenced, outsiders want to know what's wrong with the Red & White.

Don't forget, though, it could be much worse.

Veteran safety Wes Lysack has been around long enough to understand that any time you're within striking distance of top spot, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

"Regardless of how things went last game, we're still in first place and we have to maintain it," he said. "I've been playing in years where we had to rely on other teams to do bad and us to do well at the same time to make sure we were in a position to win. This year is a lot different. We're going to control our own destiny."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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