OTTAWA - Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders have a shot at Grey Cup redemption.
Calgary returns to the CFL title game a year after suffering a stunning 39-33 overtime loss to the underdog Ottawa Redblacks at BMO Field. The Stampeders take on the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday at TD Place.
Calgary again boasted the CFL's best regular-season record at 13-4-1 — not quite as good as last year's 15-2-1 mark — but endured some late-season adversity by losing their final three regular-season contests. And even in the West Division final, the Stampeders fell behind Edmonton 14-0 before capturing a 31-28 victory.
The Stampeders had few problems this season with Toronto (9-9), sweeping the regular-season series 2-0 by a combined 30-point margin. Mitchell threw for 633 yards and five TD strikes in the two games while Roy Finch returned a punt 103 yards in Calgary's 41-24 road victory Aug. 3.
Toronto's Ricky Ray, who recorded 12 300-yard passing games this season, had his problems against Calgary's CFL-best defence. The East Division nominee for the league's outstanding player honour threw for a combined 359 yards versus the Stampeders with one TD and an interception.
Argos running back James Wilder Jr., the East's nominee for CFL top rookie, ran for just 26 yards on six carries this year against Calgary. He finished fifth overall in rushing (871 yards, 7.1-yard average) despite becoming a late-season starter.
Ray is the CFL's feel-good story this season. After being limited to just 12 games the previous two years because of injuries, the veteran made 17 starts this season and threw for 5,546 yards, his first 5,000-yard campaign since 2008 and fourth of his career.
But Calgary's defence will present a very stiff challenge for Ray and Co. The Stampeders led the CFL in fewest points allowed (19.4), fewest offensive points allowed (16.7), TDs allowed (28), yards (314.7 per game), passing TDs (17) and pressures (125) and were tied with Toronto for most sacks (50).
And then there's Finch, who led the CFL in punt-return yards (1,200), average (16.4 yards), TDs (three) and returns of 30 or more yards (nine). He's a threat every time he drops back, bad news for a Toronto cover team that allowed Christion Jones' 79-yard punt return TD in last weekend's 25-21 East Division final win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Jones's return put Saskatchewan ahead 21-18 with under three minutes to play. And that was more than enough time for Ray, who'd struggled against the Riders' defence to that point. He marched the Argos 67 yards into a stiff 54-kilometre-an-hour wind to the Riders' one-yard line, setting up Cody Fajardo's winning one-yard TD run with 23 seconds left.
Toronto counters with a defence that was ranked first against the run (82.8 yards per game) and third versus the pass (254.6), and managed 50 sacks. But Calgary allowed just 30 sacks, second only to Edmonton (29).
As well, Calgary ran for 182 yards last weekend against Edmonton. Finch had 81 yards on just four carries, 50 coming on a TD run, while Canadian Jerome Messam rushed 13 times for 71 yards (5.5-yard average) and a touchdown.
The six-foot-three, 255-pound Messam ran 10 times for 76 yards and a TD in Calgary's 17-point win before adding 62 yards on 14 carries in a 23-7 home victory Aug. 26.
Calgary can also offer the speedy Finch as a change-up in the backfield, giving a defence more challenges to deal with. But the biggest element working in Calgary's favour will be its intention and desire to make up for last year's surprising defeat and finish the job this time around.
Last week: 0-2.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the wrong score for last year's Grey Cup