October 12, 2016 - 3:19 PM
CALGARY - Chasing a historic CFL record and preserving your players for a division final at home don't have to be mutually exclusive, but Calgary Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson has a balancing act ahead of him.
The Stampeders (13-1-1) know over five weeks out they're the host team of the West Division final at McMahon Stadium on Nov. 20. The winner advances to the Grey Cup the following week in Toronto.
Calgary's last three games of this regular season are meaningless to their playoff position. If they win out, however, the Stampeders would be just the second team to finish with 16 wins in the 18-game era.
The Edmonton Eskimos went 16-2 under Joe Faragalli in 1989, but were ousted in the West final by the eventual Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Stampeders are at home to the Montreal Alouettes (4-10) on Saturday and the Toronto Argonauts (5-10) on Oct. 21, before finishing on the road in Montreal. They conclude the regular season with a bye week.
Dickenson, in his first season as Calgary's head coach, says he's learned playing for B.C. head coach Wally Buono and coaching with Stampeder GM John Hufnagel how to conserve personnel while staying competitive.
"There's certainly some opportunity to rest some guys," Dickenson said Wednesday. "I will definitely do that versus trying to get 16 wins. I don't think that's the important thing.
"We're still all paid to do a job. Guys want to play. For the most part, if you're healthy, you play."
A 16-1-1 record — which would produce the highest point total in the 18-game era — motivates running back Jerome Messam to keep his foot on the gas.
"I want to be part of one of the best teams in history, so if we can do that, win out for the rest of the season and go on and get this Grey Cup, I think we're going to be claimed the best team," he said.
The CFL's leading rusher (1,002 yards) is likely referencing himself when he says Stampeders are chasing individual milestones too.
"A lot of guys got things going in their contracts and guys want to hit a couple of incentives just to get a little extra money," Messam said candidly.
"I'm sure guys are going to be fighting through little nicks and bruises to hit what they need to get. I'm sure guys will be smart with their bodies."
The six-foot-three, 254-pound back ranks ahead of Toronto's Brandon Whitaker (830 yards) and wants to stay there.
"While I'm playing, I'm going to try and rack them up as much as I can so nobody can creep up and pass me at the end," Messam said.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell says a Grey Cup trumps a 16-win season, but he would take both.
"The most important thing is holding the Grey Cup," Mitchell said. "It would be a nice little nugget to add on there to have the best record ever."
The Stampeders secured a division final at McMahon — where they are 7-0 — with their 48-20 win over Toronto on Monday.
The win well in hand, Mitchell gave way to backup Drew Tate early in the fourth quarter.
Now 41-7-1 as a CFL starter, Mitchell wants to stay on the field, but trusts Dickenson to manage his minutes effectively.
"He's put into our head and let us know that we're not slowing down," Mitchell said. "If you're healthy, you're playing. That's the way I hope it to be. I want to be out there every single game with my guys battling.
"I can't stand watching from the sidelines."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016