CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders stayed in the hunt for a second straight Grey Cup with a 35-9 win over the B.C. Lions in Sunday’s division semifinal.
The defending champions travel north to Edmonton to meet the Eskimos next Sunday in the CFL’s West Division final. The winner books a berth in this year’s Grey Cup in Winnipeg.
The provincial rivals tied for the best record in the CFL this season at 14-4, but Edmonton won their season series and thus the playoff bye.
“I think it’s going to be a whale of ball game,” Stampeder head coach John Hufnagel said.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats edged the Toronto Argonauts 25-22 in the earlier East semifinal. Hamilton meets the Ottawa Redblacks in the East final next Sunday.
The Stampeders will play their seventh division final in eight seasons since Hufnagel became coach and general manager in 2008. He will step aside from coaching next season to make way for offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson and continue as GM.
So Sunday’s playoff game was Hufnagel’s last at McMahon Stadium on the Stampeder sidelines.
“We won and that’s a good thing,” Hufnagel said. “I’m very pleased we won the football game, that we can move on and try to earn the right to get to the Grey Cup.”
Stampeder quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell improved to a career 3-0 in CFL playoff starts. The West’s nominee for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award completed 15 of 24 pass attempts for 199 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes to Eric Rogers.
Running back Jerome Messam ran for a touchdown and posted a combined 147 yards rushing and receiving. Defensive end Keon Raymond ran an interception in for a major in the opening quarter.
Anthony Parker caught a two-point convert throw and Rene Paredes kicked a field goal in front of an announced 26,306. Calgary punter Rob Maver added a pair of singles.
The Lions replied with a trio of Richie Leon field goals. B.C. did not score an offensive touchdown against Calgary this season.
Travis Lulay relieved starting quarterback Jonathon Jennings just before halftime when Jennings suffered broken collarbone. It was Lulay’s first game action since spraining his knee Sept. 3 in Montreal.
Lulay was 10-for-19 in passing for 119 yards, while Jennings went 4-for-7 for 56 yards. Jennings was sacked twice.
“I think the key was field position,” Lions head coach Jeff Tedford said. “I don’t know how many times we started inside our 15-yard line. It was incredible how field position, we could never get out of a hole.”
Kickoff was sunny and windy with a temperature of about 13 degrees. Calgary didn’t want their bid for a second straight Grey Cup to trip on the underdog Lions (7-11).
The Stampeder defence kept the Lions out of the end zone while the offence required a full quarter to get on track.
Hufnagel assisted his defence by winning a challenge on a pass interference call in the first quarter, which prevented the Lions from getting the ball on Calgary’s one-yard line.
B.C. settled for a field goal before Raymond picked off a Jennings pass and scored on a 38-yard return.
But Calgary’s victory was hard on their offensive line.
Injuries to centre Pierre Lavertu and left guard Shane Bergman in the first half had Spencer Wilson moving into the middle and defensive linemen Quinn Smith and Junior Turner rotating onto the offensive line. Smith has experience switching, but Turner had none.
“One thing we didn’t want to do was panic and ruin the game for ourselves,” Hufnagel said.
“Early on, we were struggling offensively. We were trying to hit some home runs and we wanted to stretch the field early. We didn’t connect. We didn’t throw really that much downfield after we suffered the injuries, because, you know, we’re just not going to do that.”
The coach didn’t have an immediate update on Bergman, who appeared to sustain an upper-body injury, or Lavertu, who limped to the sideline in the first quarter.
Wilson took over snapping the ball to Mitchell, who wasn’t sacked in the game despite the unorthodox changes on the offensive line.
“Junior has never practised at O-line,” Mitchell said. “To see that happen, I just kind of blocked it out of my mind and acted like it wasn’t even happening to be honest. If you do, you start thinking about protection too much and start getting your eyes down. Junior and Quinn did a hell of a job.
“I’d like to see the offence play better, starting with myself, but we went out there and put up above 30 points and held them to under 10 and now we can go onto that next one. Now it’s about that second game.”