Calm before the storm

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

CALGARY -- Richie Hall believes his football team has achieved something close to the perfect state to be going into today's West semifinal.

So does John Hufnagel.

One is a rookie head coach with a group which hasn't been together as a team for even the entire season.

The other is a guy who was a rookie head coach last year in the same situation, won the Grey Cup and has that as the edge in the post-season this year.

"We're an intense group but you see smiles and laughing," Hall said of his Edmonton Eskimos.

"There's a relaxed atmosphere. There's controlled enthusiasm. We're up -- but not way high up or out of whack."

When you are 6.5-point underdogs after losing 32-8 and 30-7 here earlier this season, you want to be able to play loose and use the fact you beat your opponents by a combined total of 58 points in the last two games.

The one guy Hall most wants to be in that state of mind going into today's game is running back Arkee Whitlock.

The last thing he wants to see is Whitlock working himself into the same state for his first playoff game that he did before he played his first regular season game when he made perhaps the most disastrous debut in Eskimos history.

"You always worry about doing things for the first time but I'm not worried about Arkee at all,"Hall said.

"He's a rookie. I'm a rookie head coach. But this is Game 19 and nobody is a rookie anymore. We're here now and he's been one of the leaders to get us here.

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

Meanwhile, Hufnagel thinks that having significantly more returnees from last year than the Eskimos and an entirely stand-pat coaching staff should be an adantage for his Stampeders.

"Continuity has some value," he said.

Hufnagel said there otherwise isn't that much difference between the Stampeders and the Eskimos -- including the way they were built.

"We're very similar football teams. The defence has a lot of new names on both teams. Both offences struggled at various points in the season."

And as for those 32-8 and 30-7 wins over Edmonton earlier this year, Hufangel doesn't think they mean much.

"This game is it's own entity," he said.

There was some worry here the Stampeders might be looking past this game to get back to Regina, where they lost last weekend to give the Roughriders first place and the right to host the Western Conference final for the first time in 33 years.

But the Stamps say the Edmonton-Calgary thing is kind of built-in protection against that.

"We're ready to play this game," said receiver Jermaine Copeland.

"We're looking forward to the game. They're on fire and we know that," said Burris.

"Any team coming into this type of situation, a playoff game, you can't look past anything," said Stampeders' running back Joffrey Reynolds.

"I think everyone in Calgary knows the importance of this game and what type of opponent Edmonton is.

"We definitely have to go out and play good football."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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