By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – The Calgary Stampeders might appear to be ripe for the picking, but don’t tell the Blue Bombers that.
The Stampeders (12-4) visit Winnipeg Friday having lost their last two games, while the Bombers (9-7) are riding a season-high, four-game winning streak.
Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols isn’t underestimating Calgary, which lost to Saskatchewan and B.C., both games by five points.
“That would not be a smart thing to do,” Nichols said after Thursday’s walk-through.
The outcome has playoff implications for both clubs. A victory or tie for Calgary gives it first place in the CFL West Division for a third straight season. If the Bombers win or tie, they secure a playoff spot and eliminate Edmonton (8-9) from post-season play.
“There’s a lot on the line for them, as is for us,” Nichols said. “It’s kind of been playoff football for us the last four or five weeks and this week is no different.”
Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has had to deal with throwing passes to an ever-changing receiving corps. Four receivers are on the six-game injured list. Newly signed pass catcher Bakari Grant remains off the roster for now. Two starting defensive backs and a pair of regulars on the defensive line are also on the injured list.
“I don’t look at them as wounded,” Bombers running back Andrew Harris said. “They’re a team I respect a lot no matter who is in there. The next man up is always just as good as the guy who got (hurt).”
Mitchell is 6-0 playing in Winnipeg, but he’s taking nothing for granted after his team’s two losses. They also only beat last-place Montreal 12-6 before the defeats.
“I definitely have the confidence in this building, but it’s always different each year,” Mitchell said. “You know, how you’re playing right now at the moment, how the other team is playing. So just looking forward, honestly, to a rebound game.”
Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said his team’s effort isn’t lacking, but now might be the time to shift into another gear.
“You have to play with urgency, that we need this game, we need to make this play,” Dickenson said. “I think that can make your team play better.
“Certainly it’s getting more urgent for us. Hopefully, we use that and play well.”
The Bombers may be getting some key help back on defence with the return of rush end Jackson Jeffcoat. Although head coach Mike O’Shea says Jeffcoat is a game-time decision, all signs point that he’ll see action after missing the pass six games with an upper-body injury.
Jeffcoat had five quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of knockdowns in the nine games before he got injured.
“I’ve got a lot of energy built up that I haven’t got to let out so I’m excited to get out there and play,” Jeffcoat said.
Winnipeg has outscored its opponents 132-49 during its four-game winning streak, including a 31-0 victory over Saskatchewan before the Bombers’ recent bye week. The defence leads the league with 45 takeaways and the 141 points it has scored off of its turnovers.
Calgary’s defence is no weak link. It’s second in takeaways with 44 and features linebacker Alex Singleton, who leads the league in defensive tackles with 107, six ahead of Bomber Adam Bighill. Stampeders defensive lineman Micah Johnson had one sack in each of his four past games and a total of seven over a six-game roll.
Singleton said special attention will be paid to Harris, who was held to 13 yards on seven carries when Calgary beat the Bombers 39-26 in late August. Harris has rushed 222 times for 1,269 yards, second to Ottawa’s William Powell (1,362)
“Everything while I’ve been here goes through (Harris),” Singleton said. “As much as you’ve gotta stop a lot of other people, (Nic) Demski gets a lot of carries now and Nichols gets the ball all over the field.
“If you can stop (Harris) and make the team one-dimensional, it does make it easier.”
CALGARY (12-4) AT WINNIPEG (9-7)
Friday, Investors Group Field
ON A ROLL: Calgary has won nine straight games in Winnipeg. The last time the Bombers beat the Stamps at home was July 10, 2009 in the old stadium.
ZERO FOR EIGHT: Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has never led a team to victory over Calgary, including four games when he was with Edmonton and four as Winnipeg’s pivot.
JOINING A RARE CLUB: Winnipeg slotback Weston Dressler needs 27 receiving yards to become the 17th CFL player to reach 10,000 career receiving yards.