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NOW Atlantic: Smart thinking for a changing world
Everybody says it these days.
If you’re going to win in the CFL when November hits and the temperatures start dropping, your run game is going to be lights-out.
There’s almost always some truth in conventional wisdom and everyone on the Calgary Stampeders knows they’re going to need to find some success if they’re going to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Sunday’s West Division semifinal when temperatures lower to around minus-10 degrees.
But conventional wisdom tends to change over time, and Stamps running back Ante Milanovic-Litre believes it’s a little more complicated than saying ‘The team that runs for the most yards wins.”
He’s got the receipts to prove it, too.
“I was talking to my strength coach back in Vancouver and for whatever reason, we were talking about footwear,” Milanovic-Litre said. “I don’t know why it came to it, but he started sending me all these old news articles from the (1970s) about the early Grey Cups and there was this one Grey Cup when it got cold.
“They were talking about the icy field conditions and how important the pass game was. It’s because the advantage goes to offence. We know where we’re going, the defence has to react. I think Bo (Levi Mitchell) likes the cold, too. In these games, the elements are the same for everybody. You’ve got to find a way to win a playoff game, that’s it.”
It’s worth going back to last year’s playoffs to really consider what Milanovic-Litre is saying.
In the 2018 West Final, the Stampeders ran for 80 yards. The Bombers ran for 106. It was the Stampeders who emerged with the win and went on to play in the Grey Cup.
On a ridiculously icy field in Edmonton, the Stampeders outran the Ottawa Redblacks by a grand total of six yards and sure, they ended up winning, but it’s not as if six yards was the difference.
It’s supposed to be snowing on Sunday for the West Semifinal, so maybe it’s worth going back to the 2017 Grey Cup, when the Stampeders lost to the Toronto Argonauts during a legitimate blizzard.
The conventional wisdom we were talking about earlier would seem to be in play here, but the Argonauts won that game despite rushing for what can only be described as a hilarious total of 16 yards.
So no, it’s not as simple as ‘the team with the best run game is the team that wins.’
But that doesn’t mean the Stampeders don’t need to get the ball moving on the ground if they’re going to beat the Bombers.
The Stamps are expected to have Milanovic-Litre, Don Jackson and Terry Williams all available for Sunday’s game, and that should mean they can throw a bunch of different looks at their opponents.
Whether the run game alone decides the outcome — it won’t — or not, they need consistent production out of the position.
“When you run the ball successfully, it puts defences in a bind,” Jackson said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to make sure they’re not sitting back waiting for Bo to throw the ball. We want to make sure we keep them honest.”
DON’T RULE THEM OUT
We’ll know by mid-morning on Saturday who the Stamps are going to have available for the West Semifinal.
All eyes will be on two players.
Neither receiver Eric Rogers or defensive end Cordarro Law has practised this week. Both guys also missed last weekend’s game against the B.C. Lions.
That would seem to indicate that they’re going to be out for sure against the Bombers, but Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson wouldn’t commit to that idea.
“If they can play, they’re going to play,” Dickenson said. “Cordarro was out, but Eric’s really fighting it a little bit right now . . . Guys do things differently in the playoffs. If you need to freeze something, it’s one and done. To me, if mentally you can handle it and doctors give you the go-ahead, guys will play.”
It’s probably not worth spending too much time speculating on whether Law or Rogers will be available. They’re both veterans who know the playbook inside-and-out and are capable of playing if they don’t practice.
The Stamps would also love to have them, make no mistake about that. Law led the team in sacks and is the leader on the defensive line, while Rogers is Rogers and can literally make a game-changing catch at any moment.
WIGGAN HONOURED BY TEAMMATES
Derek Wiggan probably should have been an all-star or nominated for some sort of “Most Outstanding . . . ” award this season.
He plays defensive tackle, though, so sometimes the work he does goes under the radar.
On Friday, Wiggan got honoured by his own team when he was nominated for the 2019 Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award, which goes to the player who best demonstrates the attributes of Canada’s veterans.
“Obviously, nothing I do compares to what our soldiers do,” Wiggan said. “But it’s nice to be recognized for something and hopefully the way I go about my business is similar with how our military goes about theirs.”
All nine CFL teams nominate a player for the Jake Gaudaur Veterans Award, and Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson said Wiggan was a fitting choice.
“We all love the military and what they give our country, so for Wiggo basically to step in, guys, you don’t even know who’s there (on the defensive line) but guess what, do you know who the soldiers are on the front line? Probably not, but they’re the ones doing all the tough work and he’s basically been our rock in there with all our guys hurt,” Dickenson said. “If you ever meet Wiggo, he gives everything he’s got not only to our team but to his community and here as well. Thought it was a very justified nomination.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019