CALGARY — Amid the debate about whether three weeks between games will help or hurt the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL's West Division final, time was a friend to one key Stampeder.
Defensive back Jamar Wall, who tops the CFL in pass knockdowns (17) and leads the Stampeders in interceptions (4), expects to be on the field Sunday against the visiting B.C. Lions at McMahon Stadium.
The 28-year-old division all-star injured his ankle in Calgary's regular-season finale Oct. 30 in Montreal.
The Stampeders ended the season on a bye week and had another bye week by virtue of finishing first in the West at 15-2-1. Wall had time to heal and participated in his first practice since the injury Friday.
"Had it been regular season, I would have missed a couple games I'm sure, but this break was amazing," the five-year Stampeder said. "For me, it was a big advantage."
The Stampeders and Lions (12-6) posted the best records in the CFL this season, but only one team gets to go to the Grey Cup in Toronto on Nov. 27.
"It's a Grey-Cup-or-bust kind of feeling for us," Stampeder quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said.
"This is another one of those opportunities to go out and prove who we are, not only to everybody else out there, but to ourselves."
Calgary took the season series between the two clubs 2-1, including an overtime victory on a field goal July 29. The Lions topped Calgary 20-18 in the season-opener, but were thumped 37-9 on Aug. 19.
B.C. isn't counting on a slow start by the Stampeders, but the Lions are ready if it happens.
"It's hard for a team to sit for as long as they did," Lions receiver Bryan Burnham said. "Obviously it helps them get rested up and heal some injuries, but at the same time you're not out there playing football.
"It would be nice to jump on them quick, but it's Calgary in Calgary. We know they're going to be ready."
Sunday's forecast is promising for a Nov. 20 with a high of four degrees and mostly sunny. The Stampeders said ticket sales had reached 31,000 on Friday.
The Lions' strength is their ground game with a league-leading 23 rushing touchdowns. Their passing game is no slouch, however, with 29 touchdowns to Calgary's 32 in the air.
Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings was spectacular in a 32-31 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in last Sunday's division semifinal.
The 24-year-old engineered a comeback victory with a pair of long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Jennings scored the eventual winning touchdown himself on a nine-yard scamper and lunge for the end zone.
"One of those guys that I think is a threat running, but he has a great arm and stretches the field, so when you play him, you have to make sure you defend the whole field and understand he will make some plays," Stampeder head coach Dave Dickenson said.
"We're going to have to pressure him into making mistakes."
Dickenson chose to rest and not play Mitchell against the Als, so Calgary's quarterback will not have thrown a game ball in almost a month.
The West Division's nominee for the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award says practising daily against a Calgary defence that was the stingiest in the league kept him sharp enough.
"I don't buy into rust. I don't buy into the last time (I) threw a competitive pass or played a competitive game," Mitchell said. "Come watch me on this practice field and you'll know how ready I am."
Lions receiver Emmanuel Arcenaux, who leads the CFL with 13 touchdown catches, also returned to full practice Friday. He left the division semifinal in the third quarter when he was levelled by Winnipeg's Taylor Loffler.
Dickenson piped crowd noise over the loudspeakers Friday at McMahon. That's usually done to prepare his offence for noisy, hostile road games.
But if McMahon wants to make it difficult for B.C. to hear play calling, Dickenson wanted his defence prepared for the din as well.
"There's a lot of communication on the defensive side of the ball too," Dickenson said. "I felt like that's something I've seen hurt defences in the past, so I thought I'd give it a shot."
— With files from Joshua Clipperton in Vancouver.
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