NEWS
11/11/2011 05:14 EST | Updated 01/11/2012 05:12 EST

First playoff start another chance for Calgary's Tate to prove himself

CALGARY - It became a mantra for Calgary Stampeder quarterback Drew Tate this week.

"It's just another game," he said daily.

It may be that to him, but Sunday's playoff game in Edmonton is another opportunity for Tate to reinforce his status as a starting quarterback in the CFL and increase his job security.

He'll acknowledge that at least.

"Honestly, every single game that I've played in has been the same importance just because I'm playing for my job personally and trying to win games," Tate said Friday.

Stampeder head coach and general manager John Hufnagel took the football from mainstay Henry Burris and handed it to the 27-year-old from Baytown, Texas, for the final three games of the regular season.

Tate comported himself well in three wins, throwing for 791 yards and four touchdowns with 65 per cent accuracy. Tate spread the ball around the offence in those three games, hitting 10, nine and eight different targets respectively. He's been intercepted five times though.

However far Calgary gets in the post-season, Tate can answer the question "Can he win a playoff game?" on Sunday in the division semifinal against the Eskimos.

"The way it's unfolded, coming in at the time that I did, I believe you're given doors," Tate said. "I believe God gives you doors, but it's up to you to pick what door to go in. This is the door I've opened and I want to stay in there as long as possible and not come out until we've won the thing."

He points to Saskatchewan's Darian Durant as an example of a quarterback not requiring a lot of playoff experience to have success. Durant started only four games in 2008 before taking the 'Riders to the Grey Cup game the following two seasons.

"I think he's a good example," Tate said. "You just have to capture the moment, capture the game and take advantage of what's out there."

While Tate won't apply more significance to Sunday's game, it will be the biggest he's played in since leading the University of Iowa to victory in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005.

On the final play of the game and his college career, Tate's 56-yard touchdown throw to Warren Holloway gave the Hawkeyes a 30-25 victory.

Tate seems calm and cool in conversation, but there's a toughness under that tranquility. His stepfather Dick Olin coached Tate at Baytown Lee high school and watched his son practise Friday at McMahon Stadium.

Olin, who still coaches high school ball in Dallas, provides some insight into Tate's on-field determination. Tate grew up playing football with brother Lake, five years older, and his friends.

"He had to survive. He became very competitive at a very early age," Olin said.

"Any family that has an age difference like that, they're always going to have that little guy. I can't tell you how many times the door would fly open and Drew would some running in and bam, bam, bam, here comes Lake's friends after him."

Olin says he never could get a straight answer out of Tate about what raised the ire of his sibling and friends.

"I probably kicked the ball in the woods and ran in," Tate said. "They didn't treat me like I was five years younger. You're either going to play with them or not play with them and I wanted to play with them so, I took what they gave me."

Tate is accustomed to the spotlight, even though it hasn't shone on him in Canada until now. Tate had two seasons on Saskatchewan's practice roster before joining Calgary and apprenticing behind Burris for the last two.

But high school football in Texas is almost a religion. The quarterback gets plenty of attention there, as does the starter for an NCAA Division 1 school which he was at Iowa for three of his four years there.

Hufnagel, a CFL quarterback himself for 12 years with Calgary, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, is confident Tate will give his team a chance to win Sunday and advance to the West Division final against the B.C. Lions.

"I don't believe there's any more pressure in this game than he felt the first game he started, which was a short three weeks ago," Hufnagel said. "There's pressure on everybody, but that's the game.

"He's a player that has demonstrated so far that he handle pressure situations fine."