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Stamps, Elks set for crucial Labour Day Battle of Alberta

Jake Maier hands off to Ka'Deem Carey Calgary Stampeders Jake Maier hands off to Ka'Deem Carey - The Canadian Press

The Calgary Stampeders are in a fight for a playoff spot against a team that started the season with nine consecutive losses.

Ahead of the Labour Day Classic on Monday at McMahon Stadium, the pressure is squarely on quarterback Jake Maier and the rest of the Stampeders, who come in at 3-8 and fourth in the West. Calgary has yet to win consecutive games this year.

They’ll face an Edmonton Elks team – 2-9, fifth in the West – who are riding a two-game winning streak. If either team sweeps the next two games they play against one another, that team will very likely grab the final playoff spot in the West.

“When you’re 0-9, you really don’t have anything to lose,” Elks quarterback Tre Ford said.

“You’ve lost nine games in a row. The sun does not look like it’s shining. You just go out there. You’ve got to ball and have fun.”

This Elks team can potentially find itself in a playoff spot soon despite one of the worst starts to a season in franchise history. Veteran receiver Geno Lewis is stressing to his teammates that the post-season has actually already begun.

“Every game that we play from now until the end of the regular season is all playoff games,” he said. 

“We put ourselves in that [0-9] position so now we’ve got to dig ourselves out of it. I look at it as a one-game season and all these games are critical.”

While the Elks just snapped their streak, the Stamps have a streak of their own that’s in serious jeopardy. Calgary has made the post-season every year since 2005, the longest active playoff streak in major men’s North American sports. While it was expected the team would take a step back with a new pivot, few anticipated Calgary to be a playoff bubble team this late in the season. 

“There’s a level of expectation every year for this organization to be a competitive, championship-calibre team, and we have not been that this year,” Maier said.

“That streak is awesome. I was fortunate enough to be a part of two years of that and we still have every opportunity to continue that streak…that’s a great streak, a great tradition this organization’s been a part of. Okay, this is the 2023 team. So, what matters to us now? What’s important to us now? That’s all we can really focus on.”

Despite the recent success, the Elks have not forgotten how tough that season-opening stretch was. Lewis and head coach Chris Jones commended his group for their unity and professionalism during that challenging period.

“I’m so proud of how the guys work,” he said.

“They show back up the following week for nine weeks in a row not winning, there were nine opportunities for them to decide, ‘You know what? This is not worth it.’ They didn’t do that. They continued to fight. They continued to scratch and gave themselves an opportunity to be where we are right now.”

“It’s beautiful,” Lewis said, of the group’s resiliency.

“It’s great. It’s awesome. But we’re not satisfied…the expectations were high for us before the season and as the season wasn’t going well the first nine games, it was, ‘They probably won’t ever win a game again this season. They might be the worst football team ever in North America, things like that.’ Just hearing that stuff and then starting to get wins and you see everybody’s minds change and everybody flip, ‘They’re actually good,’ and stuff. That’s probably what feels the best for me and our team…everybody can have all their expectations and opinions, but it’s all about the things we do and how we respond to it.”

Jones knows the stakes for the upcoming two games, but is giving his players simple advice on how to approach the Labour Day Classic, as well as the rematch in Week 14.

“I always refer back to high school football, youth football,” he said.

“I love youth sports. That’s what I liken it to. It doesn’t matter. It’s your rival game. You think about how it was to play your rival game in high school and it doesn’t matter what your records are, this is for pride.”