The Calgary Stampeders will find out if the third time’s a charm in the Grey Cup.
Calgary was favoured to win the 2017 and 2016 Grey Cups, but lost to the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks respectively.
And the Stampeders face the Redblacks again for the title Sunday in Edmonton. Ottawa beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 46-27 earlier Sunday to take the East Division.
“As a coach, I think you’re stupid if you don’t look at maybe changing something up and doing something different,” Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson said. “You’ve got to solve this riddle.
“It’s time to climb to the top of the mountain.”
The Stampeders posted the CFL’s best record at 13-5 to earn the playoff bye. Calgary will make its fourth Grey Cup appearance in five years after claiming the championship in 2014.
Eric Rogers led Calgary with three touchdown catches Sunday, including a 10-yard leaping grab in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. That score was the highlight of a second half largely devoid of offence as both defences dug in.
Winnipeg’s Justin Medlock kicked four field goals for the visitors, including a 57-yarder for a CFL playoff record, in front of an announced 29,268 at McMahon Stadium.
Bo Levi Mitchell completed 17 of 31 passes for 214 yards and three touchdown throws. He joins a select group of CFL quarterbacks to lead their teams to a playoff win five straight years. Ron Lancaster, Russ Jackson, Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham are the others.
The last team to appear in three straight Grey Cups was the Montreal Alouettes from 2008 to 2010. The Als won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
Winnipeg’s Grey Cup drought extends to 28 years with the loss. The Blue Bombers finished third in the division with a 10-8 record. After starting the season 5-7, the Bombers went 6-1 en route to Sunday’s division final including a 23-18 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the division semifinal.
Bombers starting quarterback Matt Nichols was 15-for-32 in passing for 156 yards Sunday.
“It sucks man. It sucks,” Nichols lamented.
“We didn’t quite earn it as a team today. I feel like our defence deserved better today. They did a hell of a job. We had a lot of opportunities. Of course Calgary’s defence, they played great tonight and it’s difficult.
“You go into a game like this with no doubt that you’re going to win and when you don’t, it’s a pretty terrible feeling.”
Mitchell’s 21-yard pass to Richie Sindani, followed by an 18-yard Don Jackson run and a 15-yard catch from Lemar Durant put the hosts in scoring range for Mitchell’s pivotal touchdown throw to Rogers with just under four minutes to play.
“Eric is a hard guy to cover,” Mitchell said. “I trust Eric, I understand his body language. I know where he’s going to be on certain things.
“A play like that at the end of the game, there’s not a lot of players who make plays like that. He’s a big-time guy. He never makes the moment bigger than it is.”
Trailing 6-0, Calgary’s first touchdown of the game in the second quarter was key. Mitchell marched the offence 92 yards in a drive that ate eight minutes four seconds off the clock, and capped it with a 12-yard touchdown toss to Rogers. He threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Rogers in the end zone later in the quarter to give the hosts a 14-6 halftime lead.
After travelling to Toronto and then Ottawa for the two previous Grey Cups, the Stampeders will play for the title much closer to home in their provincial rival’s stadium.
“We’re happy to be out west. We’re hoping people show up,” Dickenson said, joking that it was the first time he looked forward to going to Commonwealth Stadium.
“I know, Edmonton, but we’d love to get some support from you guys.”