CALGARY - Coulda.
The Calgary Stampeders coulda padded their lead atop the CFL’s West Division standings.
They shoulda had a field day with their struggling rivals.
They woulda been off to the races.
Didn’t quite turn out that way.
With a 35-7 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in Monday’s Labour Day Classic at McMahon Stadium, the Stamps squandered an opportunity to take a two-game lead over their provincial rival.
Heading into Friday’s rematch at the other end of the QEII Highway at Commonwealth Stadium, the Stamps and the Eskimos are now tied for top spot in the West Division with identical 6-3 records. The Eskimos have already clinched the season-series.
As many outsiders expected, the Labour Day Classic was a lopsided affair. As few predicted, it was the Eskimos walking away with a convincing victory.
“I tried to make sure (the players) did not underestimate them. If they read the papers, maybe they would feel that way,” said Stamps head coach John Hufnagel. “But on a daily basis, in all the chats that we’ve had,
I told them about the makeup of that team that was coming down here and how dangerous they are.
“They were a team that was coming down to take something away from us.
“And they did.”
The two teams will hook up again Friday night in Edmonton, meaning the Stamps won’t have to wait long for an opportunity to reclaim sole possession of first place in the West.
After what was undoubtedly their worst performance of the season, it was obvious the Stamps can hardly wait for the rematch.
As one person in the pressbox put it, “They don’t stink, they stunk,” and they’re anxious to prove it.
“I wish we could go out and play them again tomorrow,” said Stamps halfback Brandon Smith. “We didn’t play our best football at all.”
The Stamps announced a sellout crowd of 35,650 for Monday’s matinee, although there were obviously a few thousand ducats that didn’t get used.
Aside from an impressive 99-yard drive in the first quarter, you could argue the Stamps offence didn’t show up, either.
The defence looked worn out in the second half after spending way too much time on the field before the break.
And when they desperately needed a big play to get momentum back on their side, the special-teamers couldn’t provide one.
Now, they have four days to make sure the so-called Labour Day Replay at Commonwealth Stadium doesn’t look anything like the first instalment of the annual home-and-home series.
After Monday’s meltdown, the frustration was obvious in the hometown squad’s locker-room.
“If you get smacked on your chin, you’re not going to be emotional? At your own field, the Labour Day Classic, the biggest crowd of the year and you come out and you lay an egg and you lose, you’re going to be emotional. If you’re not emotional, you don’t need to be on the field,” said Stamps elder statesman and defensive captain DeVone Claybrooks. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“This is a character-defining game,” Claybrooks continued. “And how we respond tells us if we really have a legit shot to win the Grey Cup or not. It’s pretty simple. If somebody comes into your backyard and smacks you around and you’ve got a chance to return the favour in four days, what do you do?
“You either put up or shut up and come out and play.
“I like the groups of guys we’ve got, I like the character that we’ve got, and I think we’ll come out and respond.”
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson