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Stampeders pack up after their great season ends badly

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The Canadian Press
11/18/2013 7:12:27 PM
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CALGARY - The Calgary Stampeders carried the contents of their lockers to their cars at McMahon Stadium with mixed feelings Monday.

A good season, yes, but as star running back Jon Cornish pointed out, people will remember this year's Grey Cup winner before they remember Calgary's 14-4 record in the regular season.

"The (Stampeder) teams that were 15-3 back in the '90s, who is going to remember those teams?" Cornish said outside the locker room.

"I had no clue those teams existed prior to us coming close to the record because we didn't win championships those years. For me I'm getting older and I care about my legacy.

"I understand that winning championships is part of the game in the CFL. Those are the guys who are remembered. For me, this really emphasizes what next year means."

The Stampeders were in a next-year mindset because of a 35-13 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the previous night's West Division final at McMahon. The Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats will play in Sunday's Grey Cup in Regina.

Calgary carried the season's best record into the playoffs and was a Grey Cup favourite as the next-closest teams were 11-7.

The Stampeders ranked No. 1 in many statistical categories. Cornish won his second straight season rushing title and is a double nominee for the league's Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian awards.

Offensive lineman Brett Jones is a finalist for rookie of the year, defensive end Charleston Hughes for the defensive player award and kicker Rene Paredes for the special teams player trophy.

It's the first time Calgary has finalists for five major awards and those will be announced Thursday in Regina.

Calgary won games despite a three-man rotation at quarterback in the middle of the season because of injuries and constantly plugging holes at other positions for the same reasons.

But the best team in the league at protecting the football chose the wrong game and the wrong opponent to suddenly develop a case of the drops.

Seven turnovers against the Roughriders, who led the CFL in takeaways this season, was Calgary's undoing. Saskatchewan jumped out to a 22-6 lead, which gave them the luxury of running the ball a lot against a Stampeder defensive line missing two premiere tackles with knee injuries.

"Going into the game, if I was scripting it, I would have liked to have seen my offence on the field more than their offence and that way keeping our defence on the sideline," Calgary coach John Hufnagel said. "I didn't really want the script to be them having a lead and having the ability to have patience with their running game.

"The turnovers partially created that scenario we didn't want. When you play good football teams in big games, you need to protect the football."

Hufnagel completed the second season of a five-year contract extension signed when the NHL's Calgary Flames bought the team in the January, 2012.

Initially hired prior to the 2008 season, the Stampeders have gone 73-34-1 in the regular season under Hufnagel as coach and GM. The Stampeders have played in two Grey Cups during his tenure and won it in 2008. Calgary's playoff record with Hufnagel is 5-5.

He says he has about 14 players entering free agency this off-season, with defensive back Juwan Simpson and receiver Mo Price among them.

But the more pressing matter for the Stampeders is which quarterback Hufnagel will choose to protect in the expansion draft Dec. 16?

Calgary can hide only one from the Ottawa Redblacks when protected rosters are submitted Dec. 9. Kevin Glenn, Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell all started and won games for Calgary this season and all three are still under contracts.

When asked Monday if he'd made a decision on which quarterback to protect, Hufnagel said no, but that expansion-draft meetings would start immediately.

Tate was anointed Calgary's next starting quarterback when the Stampeders traded Henry Burris to Hamilton in January. 2012. But the brittle Tate hasn't been able to string together starts because of various injuries over two seasons.

Kevin Glenn came to Calgary in the Burris trade as insurance and has posted a 20-8 record and a 2-2 playoff record. The 33-year-old veteran struggled in his last three games for Calgary, however, and Hufnagel has to look to the future of the franchise.

Bo Levi Mitchell, 23, won his three starts. He also came off the bench for an injured Glenn in the third quarter against Montreal in July and threw a pair of touchdowns in the win.

"For right now, I'm a Calgary Stampeder. That's what it says on the contract," Glenn said Monday. "Who knows what's going to happen? I doubt all three of us will be back, but we just have to wait to see what happens."

The Edmonton Eskimos, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa are in the market for a new coach and the Montreal Alouettes could be if the team decides to hire a new one instead of GM Jim Popp continuing in that role.

Stampeder offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson and defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell would be attractive options in those markets.

"I believe we have some candidates that other teams would want to talk to," Hufnagel said.

Jon Cornish  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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