Morris: Mitchell, Stamps set sights on hosting and hoisting
Bo Levi Mitchell has done a lot of things in his CFL career.
The Calgary Stampeder quarterback has been the league’s most outstanding player twice and a league all-star two times. He’s experienced the thrill of winning two Grey Cups and was named the game’s MVP both times. He’s also known the heartbreak of losing three Grey Cups, two of them Calgary probably should have won.
The one thing Mitchell hasn’t done is play for a CFL championship in front of a hometown crowd.
“It would be huge,” Mitchell said with a nod. “We’ve played for one it feels like in every other city. It would be awesome to be in front of our home fans.
“The funny part is, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, everywhere we’ve (played in a Grey Cup), it’s always felt like we were the hated team fan wise. We made bad plays, everyone cheered. It would be cool to have the fans on our side.”
The defending CFL champions will need to make a road trip if they hope to play in their sixth Grey Cup in eight years at McMahon Stadium on Nov. 24. For the first time in four years, and only the second time since 2013, Calgary didn’t finish first in the West.
It wasn’t pretty but the Stampeders beat the BC Lions 21-16 Saturday night to wrap up second place in the West with a 12-6-0 record. The Saskatchewan Roughriders (13-5-0) used a 23-13 win over the Edmonton Eskimos earlier in the day to clinch first place.
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“Style points don’t matter,” said Mitchell. “A win is a win. It’s good to go out there and get the win and lock up what we can lock up.
“Offensively, the last five weeks is the best we’ve been playing in a while.”
Calgary will host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in next Sunday’s first round of the playoffs. The winner will play the Riders in Saskatchewan in the West Final Nov. 17.
It’s been a bumpy ride for the Stampedes and their quarterback this season.
Mitchell suffered the first major injury of his eight-year career when he tore the pectoral muscle of his throwing arm in a June 29 game against BC. He spent the next seven games prowling the sidelines like a wounded animal.
“It’s been different,” said the 29-year-old from Katy, Tex. “It was weird having to sit on the sidelines and watch.
“You play this game to play this game. I’ll be on the sidelines sometime in the future coaching. I just don’t want that to be now.”
During his absence Nick Arbuckle led Calgary to a 4-3 record.
Head coach Dave Dickenson said even after Mitchell returned it took time for him to feel comfortable again.
“I think Bo didn’t have 100 per cent faith in his shoulder early in the year,” said Dickenson. “I think he had some pain in there. It took a little bit of time to get confident.
“Since he’s been back, I think he’s thrown the ball as well as he’s thrown it in his career. Super accurate, making good reads.”
Against the Lions Mitchell was good on 20 of 38 passes for 282 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He finished the season completing 274 of 415 passes for 3,464 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Stampeders were 8-3 in the 11 games he started.
In a six-game stretch heading into Saturday night Mitchell he had five games of 300-plus yards. He averaged 356 yards over that span with 12 touchdown passes.
If there’s one advantage to missing nearly half the season, Mitchell heads into the playoffs feeling healthier than he ever has at this time of year.
“Being back on the field has been amazing,” he said. “Honestly, my body feels energized, my mind feels energized. I’m just excited for the playoffs.”
One of Mitchell’s favourite targets this year has been slotback Reggie Begelton. At six-foot-two and 205 pounds the third-year Stampeder has the skill to make catches in traffic then the size to shake off tacklers.
“He’s been huge,” said Mitchell. “He’s done an amazing job all year.
“The biggest thing for him, he’s progressed all year. He’s just such an amazing athlete, it’s been really fun to throw to him.”
Having to adapt to a different quarterback during the season didn’t affect Begelton’s game.
“I thought it would but honestly it didn’t,” said the 26-year-old Texan who had six catches for 60 yards against the Lions. “It’s me trying to do my job.
“I can control what I can do, the way I run my routes.”
The Stampeders have been in a state of flux all year.
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Over the winter Calgary lost veterans like linebackers Alex Singleton and Maleki Harris, receivers Marken Michel, DaVaris Daniels and Lemar Durant, and defensive linemen Micah Johnson and James Vaughters.
Dealing with the revolving door of players was a challenge for Dickenson and his coaching staff.
“We’ve had more flux and more changes in our organization than we’ve ever had,” said Dickenson. “You can tell we are a different team. We’re still a work in progress.”
The Stampeders usually head in the playoffs battled tested and confident. This year’s team is still searching for its identity.
“I felt the last few years we were a petty polished group,” said Dickenson. “We were almost playing the regular season to get to those playoffs.
“This year we have been scratching and fighting. Every single game was a battle. Our team has a lot of fight. I think we are hungry. We’re not playing at a championship level yet. I do think I’m confident in the guys in the room if we can get there.”
Injuries forced Dickenson to stitch together a roster for the game against BC. He expects to have a different cast on the field against the Blue Bombers.
“We need to be better,” he said. “We won’t win next week if we’re not better.
“Let’s just play loose and hopefully play well. If we can do that, get a win, (we’ll) see how long we can take this thing.”
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