Calgary Stampeders cautiously optimistic after solid Labour Day win
Embrace the chase.
That should be the motto for the 2019 Calgary Stampeders.
Because it’s an uphill climb like never before for the defending Grey Cup champions.
At least, it’s as challenging of a Canadian Football League campaign as they’ve faced in the last decade.
No … the Stampeders — now at 6-4 — are hardly sitting comfortably in the CFL’s West Division.
That despite the sharp-looking victory Monday in front of 32,350 fans at McMahon Stadium.
But they seem to have picked up the gauntlet thrown their way if their 25-9 Labour Day Classic rise over the rival Edmonton Eskimos is any indication.
“Definitely, it was a big one for us,” said Stampeders running back Ka’Deem Carey, whose effort helped spearhead Monday’s attack on one of their division rivals.
“I know that we know we’re the best team in this conference and this league,” Carey continued. “And just for us to go out there and put this on film and on tape and go out and play the way we know we can play, that’s something big for us.”
It’s huge, for sure.
And it certainly feels very different.
It’s not like recent seasons around here when they were the lead dog.
The last time the Red & White came into Labour Day with four losses was in 2012, when they stalled at .500 with a 4-4 mark. (For the record, they went on to make the playoffs, win both West Division playoff tilts and play — but lose — in the Grey Cup game.)
And Monday’s triumph amid what was a spirited atmosphere, thanks mostly to a lively crowd at McMahon, simply keeps them in the division race this season.
They’re not in first place — that perch being occupied by the 8-3 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Nor are they in second — where the surging Saskatchewan Roughriders sit with a 7-3 record.
And they only own a share of third, although they do have a game in hand on the Esks and an all-important 2-0 series advantage over their provincial rivals.
A win in the Labour Day Replay on Saturday in Edmonton would really stick a wedge between themselves and the Eskimos in the playoff race.
“It’s a building block,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson. “We’ll see what the next step is, though. Do you step back or do you keep climbing?
“We do have the season-series on the Eskimos, but there’s a couple of teams we’re staring up at. It’s not necessarily like we’re ahead of anybody really. The Eskimos (6-5) got the same amount of wins that we’ve got. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”
By all accounts, that challenge has already been accepted, as seen in Part 1 of the Labour Day Double.
Offensively, Bo Levi Mitchell — in his return from injury — brought back a sense of success right of the gate. (Hey, it’s why he’s the best player in the league, right?)
Carey and receiver Reggie Begelton put up 143 and 156 yards respectively as part of a 461-yard day for the Stampeders.
That’s the most real estate the Eskimos have surrendered all year.
And that shows well on Labour Day, which is unofficially considered the start of the CFL season.
“It’s a special game,” Mitchell said. “We always want to prove who we are against those guys. We know how dang good of a football team they’ve been this entire year. We just wanted to come out and kind of show everybody that we can be that top team in the league that people want to talk about.”
That would’ve been a different conversation had the Stamps have lost — again not like in years past with the juggernaut they’ve been.
“Honestly, it probably was a little bit more of a standings game than past Labour Day games,” Begelton said. “In other years, we’ve just had to get the win to keep the momentum going. We actually needed this game.
“And we came out and got the job done.”
The same could be said of the Stamps defensively.
The proof of that was on the scoreboard — where they allowed a season-low nine points — and in the stats pack reflecting that the 265 net yards of offence allowed by the Stamps is the least the Eskimos have been able to muster all year.
“It was a great team effort,” said Stamps defensive back Royce Metchie, whose interception early helped set the tone for the unit facing prolific passer Trevor Harris.
“This is like the turning point of the season. The season really starts here. So it’s good to start the season with a win,” Metchie continued. “But there’s still a lot of things which we left out there. There’s still things to clean up.”
The head coach couldn’t have said it any better, as he, too, showed cautious optimism after the victory.
“We’ll get better,” Dickenson said. “We need to be better as a team.”
To a man, they know it.
But the Labour Day victory gives everyone reason to believe they’re ready for what lies ahead.
“It’s a new challenge — and I think that’s always good,” Mitchell said. “Football never gets stale if there’s new challenges. I think we’re excited, man. It’s fun to have to make that chase instead of always running from guys nipping at your heels.
“You could see it (Monday) — the guys are ready to do it. It’ll be tough because there will be a lot of mental preparation in the next week to physically do that again (Saturday).
“I think we’re ready to make that run … and we’re excited to have an opportunity to do that.”