TORONTO – The Calgary Stampeders head into the Grey Cup as the CFL’s hottest team but certainly had their trouble this season with the Toronto Argonauts.
Calgary will look to cap its season with a seventh straight win when it faces Toronto in the 100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre on Sunday. However, the Argos swept the season series 2-0 and have won the last five head-to-head matchups.
However, that’s of little solace to Scott Milanovich, Toronto’s first-year head coach.
“Once the playoffs start the records, head-to-head competitions, I think it’s all out the window,” he said Monday. “This is one game, it’s 60 minutes for the 100th Grey Cup.
“I don’t think any of that matters at this point.”
Calgary advanced to the Grey Cup with a 34-29 road win over the defending-champion B.C. Lions in the West Division final Sunday after a hard-fought 36-30 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the conference semifinal. The Stampeders posted the second-best record in the CFL at 12-6 and their last loss was a 27-22 decision at B.C. on Oct. 6.
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“Calgary has been hot and has played as well if not better than anybody the last 10-to-15 games,” Milanovich said. “As we’re getting more familiar with them we’re going to know what’s in store for us.”
Toronto finished second in the East Division with a 9-9 mark, then defeated the Edmonton Eskimos 42-26 in the East semifinal before travelling to Montreal on Sunday and defeating the Alouettes 27-20. The Argos head into the Grey Cup having won four straight.
Toronto defeated Calgary 39-36 at Rogers Centre on July 7. Stampeders starter Drew Tate suffered a shoulder injury in that contest that forced him to miss 14 starts. The Argos then earned a 22-14 victory at McMahon Stadium on Aug. 18, a game that saw linebackers Brandon Isaac (a former Stamp) and Marcus Ball fined for illegal hits on Calgary running back Jon Cornish.
Backup Kevin Glenn led Calgary to nine wins during Tate’s absence before returning to the bench gracefully when Tate earned the start in the Stampeders’ semifinal win over Saskatchewan. But Tate suffered a fractured forearm in that contest, putting Glenn under centre against the Lions.
The veteran quarterback – obtained in the off-season trade that saw Henry Burris head to Hamilton – threw for 303 yards with three TDs against one interception (which was returned for a touchdown) against B.C.
“I think everybody as a Calgary Stampeder fan feels the same way, very pleased that he had the game that he did, that he responded to a pressure situation the way he did and led this football team to a very important win,” said Calgary head coach/GM John Hufnagel. “I said the day I made the trade how pleased I was that Kevin was involved with the trade.
“I always had a great amount of respect for his ability.”
Glenn finally gets to play in a Grey Cup game in Toronto five years after suffering a broken forearm in Winnipeg’s East Division final win over the Argos. With Glenn unable to play, Ryan Dinwiddie got the start for Winnipeg in its 23-19 loss to Saskatchewan at Rogers Centre.
Glenn has developed a well-earned reputation of being a streaky player, a fact not lost upon Milanovich.
“He gets very hot, as hot as anybody,” Milanovich said. “You have to disrupt him just like you would any other good quarterback.
“He’s playing well right now. He has waited a long time for this moment, too, and I’m glad for him that he’s getting this opportunity.”
Toronto starter Ricky Ray enjoyed a lot of success this season against Calgary, completing 51-of-73 passes for 723 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Glenn was 37-of-52 passes for 464 yards with three TDs and three interceptions.
The Argos did a good job against Cornish, holding the CFL’s leading rusher to a combined 82 yards on 19 carries. But Milanovich said Toronto will have to again be stout against the run because Calgary will definitely give Cornish the ball Sunday.
“They’re going to run the football,” he said. “I say it every week, you’ve got to start defensively by stopping the run.
“But they’ve got a ton of talent . . . they’ve got everything you’re looking for on offence. I think (Calgary offensive co-ordinator) Dave Dickenson does a tremendous job. We’re going to have our hands full.”
This will mark the third Grey Cup meeting between the two franchises. Calgary earned a 14-11 victory in the ’71 final before Toronto captured a 36-21 win in the ’91 contest.
Toronto is the second team in as many years to play in the Grey Cup as the host city as the Lions defeated Winnipeg 34-23 at B.C. Place last season.
There will be plenty of enticing storylines this week.
Toronto defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones will garner plenty of interest. He left the Stampeders in the off-season to join Milanovich and Argos GM Jim Barker – a former head coach and front-office executive with Calgary. Trouble was, Toronto didn’t ask for permission to speak with Jones and was fined $5,000 by the CFL for tampering.
Some of the former Stampeders on Toronto’s roster include linebackers Isaac and Robert McCune, tackle Tony Washington, receiver Ken-Yon Rambo and defensive back Ahmad Carroll.
“That definitely brings a little bit of a twist to the game,” Hufnagel said. “There’s a lot of familiarity between the coaching staff and the players.
“It should make a good story leading up to the game and I think it’s going to be a very, very good football game.”
Hufnagel said the Stampeders don’t have an advantage being familiar with Jones’s defences.
“There’s always some help to it but obviously it didn’t help enough in the previous two games in the regular season,” he said. “We know we have our work cut out.”
But Hufnagel has won in a hostile environment before. In 2008, he led Calgary to a 22-14 victory over the Montreal Alouettes before over 60,000 spectators at Olympic Stadium.
“I’ll go back and feed off our 2008 campaign and the procedure we followed in that Grey Cup week,” he said. “Hopefully with the same results.”