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Calgary Stampeders host surging Blue Bombers in CFL West Division showdown


CALGARY — When you win a lot, says Bo Levi Mitchell, there are those who will find reasons why you shouldn't.

The Calgary Stampeders quarterback is aware CFL fans outside of Calgary would celebrate a Stampeder-free Grey Cup game after Calgary's three trips to the championship game in the last four years.

"We hear the tone of voice used when speaking about us in games, 'Finally, Calgary lost a couple games at the end of the season. Finally, they're not the team everybody thinks they are,'" Mitchell said Saturday.

"We'll show you."

Calgary (13-5) is the host of the West Division final Sunday for the fifth time in six years.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers stand in the way of a record third consecutive trip to a Grey Cup game for Calgary.

The Stampeders lost to underdogs Toronto and Ottawa in the 2017 and 2016 Grey Cups, respectively.

Winnipeg (10-8) is coming off a 23-18 upset of the host Saskatchewan Roughriders in the division semifinal.

"They just went into Sask, which everyone knows is a tough place to play, and won," Calgary linebacker Jamar Wall said. "Now they're coming in here to another tough place. It's one of those things that kind of builds them up.

"At the same time, we have been in these stages before. We've gotten a first-round bye several years. We know how to take it, how to prepare for it and we needed the time off. That extra weeks really helps."

Prior to a division-clinching win over the B.C. Lions in their regular season-finale, the Stampeders had lost three in a row, including a 29-21 decision against Winnipeg on Oct. 26.

"People have been telling us for the last month that we're not the team we used to be," Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson said.

"I think a lot of people had us middle of the road. I think they thought the Stamps were going to be down this year.

"Even as an organization we knew we had to build something. We won a lot of close football games. We worked very hard in the off-season and we believe in what we are as a team and an organization. And we put a lot of wins on the board.

"We also know you're always judged by the post-season."

Because the Blue Bombers spent long stretches of their history in the East Division, Calgary and Winnipeg will play a divisional playoff game for the first time since 1982.

Calgary beat Winnipeg in the 2001 and 1992 Grey Cups.

Winnipeg's last Grey Cup appearance was in 2011, when the Blue Bombers fell 34-23 to the Lions.

The last team to come out of third place in a division and win the Grey Cup — which requires two road wins and usually another neutral-site victory — was the Edmonton Eskimos in 2005.

"When you look at the overall picture of it, it can seems like this big thing, but really it was this week, 'we gotta go into Regina and beat Saskatchewan. That games is over with. Now we have to win one game on the road,'" Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols said. "That's my mindset.

"As crazy as it kind of sounds, this game doesn't feel different to me than any other game I've played in. I thought it would."

The Bombers have won six of their last seven games. Nichols has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception in that span.

"We've felt like we've been playing playoff games for two months now," Nichols said.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Calgary Stampeders.

Sunday, McMahon Stadium

KEY MATCHUP: Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris, the CFL's rushing leader (1,390 yards) versus Calgary middle linebacker Alex Singleton, the league leader in tackles (123).

AMBLES STAYS IN: Dickenson opted to stick with rookie receiver Markeith Ambles for Sunday's game. The more experienced DaVaris Daniels was back practising after missing six games with a broken collarbone.

EARLY LEAD INDICATOR: Calgary and Winnipeg are a combined 35-6 over 2017 and 2018 when leading after the first quarter, and 9-13 when not.

THE HITMAN COMETH: Bret (The Hitman) Hart addressed the Stampeders on Saturday morning. The Stampeders invited the former professional wrestler to speak after Ric (Nature Boy) Flair supported the Ticats in the East Division semifinal.

"What he represents is what we want to represent," Dickenson said. "We want to be tied into this community and want people to rally around the Calgary Stampeders and believe we're an important part of this city. Bret Hart is all of that."

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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