The Calgary Stampeders kept themselves in the fight.
That has to be the main takeaway from Monday’s Labour Day Classic.
A loss would have been catastrophic to their playoff hopes. A win only does so much, admittedly. If the playoffs were to start today, the Stampeders would be on the outside looking in.
But when they came storming back with 22 fourth-quarter points to take the win over the Edmonton Elks on Monday at McMahon Stadium, it at least provided a little hope about the path ahead for the final six games of the season.
And a little hope is better than none, right?
“Are we the greatest team? Maybe not, but we keep fighting,” said Stamps GM/head coach Dave Dickenson. “The guys believe, they put it all out there. We needed it, we did.
“Not sure what happens the rest of the year but (I’m) proud of the guys for continually putting it out there and believing with effort sometimes we can overcome mistakes.”
The Stamps are not a perfect team. It’s going to be hard work that gets them wherever they wind up this season.
But what exactly is the path to the playoffs for the Stampeders? How likely is it that they could wind up in the playoffs despite starting the season with a 4-12 record?
The most likely path is probably that they finish ahead of the third-place team in the East Division and qualify through a crossover scenario. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are currently 4-7, while the Ottawa Redblacks are 3-8. It’s entirely possible that the Stamps finish ahead of both.
The path through the West Division is harder to see, as the Riders are sitting at 6-5 and are coming off an impressive win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
So the Riders have two more wins than the Stampeders and an extra game remaining on their schedule. Yes, there’s a head-to-head matchup between the two teams on Oct. 13 and a win would give either the end-of-season tie-breaker, but it’s still going to be a tall task for the Stamps to pass the Riders in the standings.
And it’s not as if strength of schedule is a huge help for the Stamps, either.
Their six remaining opponents have a combined record of 37-34, or a .521 winning percentage. That’s tougher than what the Riders have in store. Their opponents have a 39-41 record, or a .488 winning percentage.
As a caveat, it is worth noting that the Stamps will be facing the Bombers in their final regular season game, and the Bombers may be comfortably sitting atop the West Division standings with nothing to play for at that point. If they rest players, it could play into the Stamps’ hands.
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But either way, the path ahead isn’t going to be easy if the Stamps have any intention of staying in the West come playoff time. And history has shown us again and again that when teams from the West go east for crossover playoff games, it doesn’t tend to go particularly well.
But that may very well wind up being the Stamps’ path forward. Even if the Riders win only three of their final seven games, they’ll wind up with nine wins. Even to finish tied in the standings, that means the Stamps need to win five of their final six, and there hasn’t been a tonne of evidence to suggest that’s in any way likely.
But they showed on Monday that you can’t write them off or count them out. The offence seems to have found its groove over the past couple weeks and while there were stretches where the defence struggled to contain Elks QB Tre Ford, they got the stops they needed in the fourth quarter.
It’s absolutely essential that the Stamps win the rematch in Edmonton on Saturday. While there’s a path available to playoff qualification, it’s a precarious one. There’s no room for error.
On Monday, though, after losing so many close games this year, the Stampeders finally pulled out a close one.
Do that a few more times and who knows? The fight’s not over yet and there’s definitely no reason to throw in the towel.