Stamps putting it in 'place'Head coach insists club can still grab first in West despite long odds
By WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
|Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel stands on the sidelines at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta., July 2, 2011. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - First things first.
The Calgary Stampeders have slipped into third spot in the CFL’s West Division and are mathematical longshots to earn a home playoff date, but coach John Hufnagel isn’t ready to start packing a suitcase for the post-season quite yet.
“We’re still fighting for first place,” Hufnagel said. “That’s my No.-1 goal — try to finish as high in the standings as possible.”
It’ll be a tough climb.
Starting with Friday’s showdown with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at McMahon Stadium (7:30 p.m., TSN, QR77), the Stamps have three games remaining on their regular-season slate.
At 8-7, they’re two points behind both the B.C. Lions (9-6) and the Edmonton Eskimos (9-6) and don’t hold the tiebreaker against either squad.
Even if the Stamps rattle off three straight victories, the Lions and Eskimos need only two wins apiece to stay ahead in the standings.
Here’s the thing, though.
“Nobody cares,” Stamps running back Jon Cornish insisted. “Huf said it best in 2008 — ‘We have them right where we want them.’ We’ve beat every team in this league, except Toronto and they’re out, so I’m not worried about them. I don’t think there is a single team in this league that we don’t have a legitimate chance of winning against. We play well on the road — everybody knows that — so there’s not a huge worry about not having homefield advantage.”
During an emotionally-charged pre-game speech at the 2008 Grey Cup in Montreal, Hufnagel told the Stamps, “we have them right where we want them” and his players responded by spoiling the Alouettes’ party with a 22-14 triumph over the hosts.
The current crop of Stamps also seem to thrive in hostile environments, although they’ve lost three straight road games since opening the season with five straight victories away from home.
On the opposite sideline for Friday’s game, the Riders have notched only four wins this season, including just two on the road. Three weeks ago at McMahon Stadium, the guys in green were on the wrong end of a 40-3 shellacking.
The Stamps have lost back-to-back games — both on last-second field goals — since then and are anxious to put some positives together before the post-season starts.
“It would still be nice to host a home playoff game, for sure, for our fans,” Stamps defensive lineman Justin Phillips said. “But the more important thing than finishing first is having momentum going into the playoffs. We want to get on a little bit of a roll here, win a few games and then see what happens. There have been teams in the past, plenty of times, that have made it to the Grey Cup by winning on the road. If that’s the case, we’re confident we’ll be able to have success doing that. ”
“Whether you finish first or third, you can look over the history, and it’s not a great indicator (of playoff success),” Stamps fullback Rob Cote added. “It doesn’t really give as big of an advantage as you’d like to think it does. We’re definitely trying to move up in the standings, but first and foremost, we’re trying to win football games and get our team moving in the right direction. More than where you finish, it’s how you’re playing.”