Getting to B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke on Sunday requires taking care of a first order of business, according to Calgary Stampeders sack specialist Shawn Lemon.
“We’ve just got to be disruptive,” the Calgary defensive end declared. “We can’t think about Nathan Rourke. We’ve got to think about the guys in front of him because they’re protecting him first.
“If we don’t take care of our work in front of us, we won’t be able to get to him.”
The Lions and Stampeders clash in the West semifinal at Vancouver’s B.C. Place in a battle of closely matched teams with identical 12-6 records.
B.C. narrowly took the season series 2-1, winning the first two games by a combined three points. The Stampeders won the third 25-11.
“This is going to be one of the best matchups of the year,” Stampeder quarterback Jake Maier predicted. “We know what they’re capable of. We know how electric that place is going to be Sunday.
“Nothing better than playoff sports. You’ve got to play your best when your best is needed.”
The victor advances to the West final Nov. 13 in Winnipeg against the defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers.
The West’s winner heads to the Nov. 20 Grey Cup in Regina to meet the East Division’s representative.
After injuring his right foot Aug. 19 and requiring surgery, Rourke started and played just over a quarter in last week’s 24-9 loss to the Bombers.
Despite sitting out eight games, the 24-year-old from Victoria ranked second in touchdown passes (23) and posted the league top completion rate among starting quarterbacks (78 per cent).
In his lone game against Calgary on Aug. 13, the West’s nominee for top Canadian threw for 488 yards and engineered a come-from-behind 41-40 win over the host Stampeders.
Rourke will need to keep a wary eye on Lemon, the West’s finalist for defensive player of the year. The 34-year-old shared the league lead for forced fumbles (five) and ranked second in sacks (14).
“I’m just happy I get to represent this great defence,” Lemon said.
A Stampeder offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks this season (17) and helped Calgary amass a league-high 2,436 rushing yards was initially left off the divisional all-stars list Wednesday before the CFL later released a corrected list with centre Sean McEwen, guard Ryan Sceviour and tackle Derek Dennis all receiving recognition.
Running back Ka’Deem Carey contributed a CFL-best 1,088 yards to the team’s rushing total.
Carey, Dedrick Mills and Peyton Logan are a triple threat for Calgary’s ground game.
Mills was among the CFL’s players of the week after a touchdown and 103 yards in last week’s win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Running back and returner Logan, the Stampeders’ nominee for rookie of the year, ranked second in the CFL in all-purpose yards (1,976).
Getting all three into Sunday’s game requires some tough roster decisions by Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson, but the coach thinks it can be done.
“There’s an option out there,” Dickenson said. “We’ve got to see where our return game is at and see who else is available.
“You do want your best players playing so it would be nice to get all three on the field.”
Stampeders receiver Malik Henry, who compiled 1,023 receiving yards for eight touchdowns, appeared game ready Wednesday after missing three straight with an ankle injury.
Calgary is relatively healthy with most starters available Sunday.
“A couple guys limited,” Dickenson cautioned. “Those are muscle pulls. Those are the toughest ones. The hard thing is do you play them and ultimately they only give you that five, six, eight plays?
“I’ve got to make sure we can get through the game. I do think we’ll have options and some people will be disappointed. We’re hopeful that it’s not just for one game. We’re hoping our series is more than just one game.”
With a snowstorm raging outside, the Stampeders practised Wednesday in a new indoor facility ahead of playing inside again Sunday at B.C. Place.
The largest inflatable dome covering a Calgary athletic field opened last month to provide a winter venue for soccer, lacrosse, football and field hockey teams.
The Stampeders had trained inside before, but in venues not broad enough, or with high enough ceilings for kicks and punts, to run a fulsome practice.
“It’s something we should have had 20 years ago, but we got it now and we used it,” Dickenson said. “We needed it. We don’t want to be out there.
“I really feel our city needs this type of thing. This is great for kids, great for us.”
—Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press