Mission not accomplished

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

All season long, CFL observers wanted to compare last year's Calgary Stampeders to the one current taking the field.

Outside of the obvious changes in personnel -- some through injury and others from performance -- the main glaring difference is their intensity on the field and their urgency off it.

The defending Grey Cup champions simply don't come out with the energy befitting a team on a mission.

It was Mission Accomplished last year because the Stamps were the dominant team from the start of games, making others play catchup.

The group that came out pumped up to play in the championship game after head coach John Hufnagel's rousing pre-game speech seems further in the past than just a year.

On Saturday in Regina, with a chance at clinching another West Division title, the Stamps let Darian Durant come out and score the first two touchdowns before they responded.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders were the ones who played as if they knew what was at stake.

Now, the Riders are the ones at home waiting for a West final opponent and sitting just 60 minutes from a Grey Cup berth.

Allowing opponents to dictate when crunch-time arrives has been a recurring theme for the Stamps this campaign.

It started in the season-opener, when the Montreal Alouettes jumped out to a 20-0 lead before the home side woke up.

The Riders went up 18-1 in the second quarter Saturday before the offence decided to move the ball. The result was the first and only touchdown drive from the visitors, and it quieted the voracious crowd.

But before the frame was done, the Riders put more points on the board, and that lead was enough to take first place.

Ever after the loss, the Stamps locker-room didn't have the feel of a team stung by the loss.

"It's not the Grey Cup," said Stamps quarterback Henry Burris. "We will be alright.

"We're still defending Grey Cup champions. Nobody is the new champ until the old one goes down. We will keep fighting until the end. We will be back here in two weeks and will settle the score then."

Eventually, Burris and the Stamps are going to have to make good on these promises.

The other guarantee was made Oct. 12. After the Stamps lost to the Montreal Alouettes, Burris was annoyed the East Division champs were still trying to score in the dying minutes.

"We'll see those guys again Nov. 29," Burris said.

Maybe two shots of redemption will get this team focused.

Stamps players have said all season first place was the goal. Winning the West with a 13-5 record last year was key to booking a ticket to Montreal, because they only needed one win to do it.

Even when the Stamps didn't need to win the season finale a year ago against the B.C. Lions, the backups came in and did an outstanding job in making sure the team went into the post-season on a roll.

'Red-hot' was the term to describe the Stamps last November. They hit the playoffs on a four-game win streak and were 8-1 in their last nine tilts. With a loss and tie against the Riders in the final month this season, the Stamps head into the post-season 2-2-1 over their final five games.

"If you want to be champions, you need to act like champions," said receiver Jeremaine Copeland, who addressed the team after the loss. "It's not going to be a cakewalk. If it was easy to go back-to-back, everybody would do it. We have to take the long road, but everyone has to start acting like professionals."

Surely, all is not lost, as the Edmonton Eskimos must come up with a great effort next Sunday in the West semi to break a three-game losing skid against the Stamps.

The home side needs to play more focused and penalty-free, something that it hasn't done in recent weeks.

If momentum is a play-to-play exchange, the Stamps need to take it early next Sunday and not let it go.

Or else there will be a repeat of 2005, when the Eskimos took advantage of Stamps' mistakes to pull off the upset.

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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