CALGARY - It looked like a juicy game on the CFL schedule back in June: the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the Calgary Stampeders on Friday.
The defending Grey Cup champions back at McMahon Stadium to face the 14-4 team they upset there to win last year's West Division final. The stadium is expected to be equal parts red and green.
What's missing is the playoff intrigue you'd expect this late in the season between these two football clubs.
The Stampeders (13-2) have already sewn up first in the West with three games still to play. They know they'll host the division final again Nov. 23.
The Roughriders (9-7) are also playoff bound with two games to go. It's just a matter of which road game they'll play. Saskatchewan will either finish third in the West or be the crossover team in the East.
So beyond playing for the win Friday, both clubs will work personnel and systems with the post-season in mind.
Playing good football going into the playoffs is motivation enough for the Stampeders, says quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. Calgary also hasn't forgotten how a stellar season ended badly with a 35-13 loss to Saskatchewan on home turf in last year's West final.
"We let a team come into our house and celebrate on our field, so we all have that sour taste in our mouths," Mitchell said Thursday. "A game is an opportunity to go out and get better. That's meaningful enough for us."
Star running back and CFL rushing leader Jon Cornish is taking the game off to heal aches and pains, so Matt Walter will start at halfback.
Receiver Eric Rogers makes his CFL debut in place of the injured Joe West, so Mitchell will work with different targets to advance the football.
"To me, it's about spreading the ball around, making sure we're getting to our guys and let those guys go out and make plays, get our running game going like we always do and just become in all three phases better as a football team," Calgary's quarterback said.
"The guys that are in, the guys that are replacing some guys who are banged up, they have a chance to get better. You don't know going into playoffs who you are going to lose and how many you're going to get back. Everybody's got to be ready to go."
Calgary downed the Roughriders 31-24 in Regina on Oct. 3, when Drew Tate drew in as starter for the injured Mitchell.
The Stampeder defence will get a look at Roughrider quarterback Kerry Joseph. In his first game since coming out of retirement, the 41-year-old was 17-for-36 in passing for 213 yards and two touchdowns Sunday in a 24-19 loss to Edmonton. Joseph was intercepted twice.
"Kerry showed he still has the big arm," Stampeder head coach John Hufnagel said.
"He still can hurt you with his legs. They did a lot more offence that I expected. He's been able to pick a lot of things up quickly. He's a veteran that knows how to win football games. He definitely has improved their team."
Joseph is Saskatchewan's third starting quarterback since Darian Durant tore a tendon in his elbow Sept. 7 in a 30-24 win over Winnipeg. The Riders are 1-5 since then with youngsters Tino Sunseri and Seth Doege both under centre before Joseph's arrival.
Durant was expected to come off Saskatchewan's six-game injured list this week and perhaps dress Friday, but the Roughriders have extended his stay on the injured list.
"He's making tremendous strides in his rehab, but for cap purposes and management, that was the smartest thing to do until we see he's at least in the 85-to-90 per cent range so we know exactly what we're going to get," Roughrider head coach Corey Chamblin told reporters Thursday in Regina.
The CFL's top two running backs will be absent Friday. Saskatchewan running back Anthony Allen, who ranks second in rushing yards (849) behind Cornish (977), will sit out with reported back spasms.
Riding a four-game losing streak, the Roughriders need some confidence heading into a bye week and into the playoffs next month.
"You want to go into the playoffs with confidence and feeling good about yourself," Saskatchewan defensive end Ricky Foley said. "You don't want to go in on a six-game losing streak.
"You don't want that locker-room in Calgary to say, 'We beat them without Cornish. We didn't even have our best player and we still won.' We want to be kind of saying that these last couple of games (that Riders won) without Darian."
— Dan Ralph contributed to this story.
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