History is on the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ side here.

The last time they met the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Western semifinal was in 2017 with the Riders winning 26-24 at home.

The Roughriders are a combined 23-18-1 at home in the playoffs while the Stampeders have struggled to a record of 13-26-2 as the road team since 1945.

But as the cliché goes, none of that matters now.

After the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes square off in the Eastern semifinal, catch the Riders battle the Stamps LIVE Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT on TSN1/3/4, TSN.ca, the TSN App and on TSN Direct.

Here is a look at everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s Western semifinal.


Riders season at a glance

Embedded Image

Things started off well for the Roughriders this year. They won their first three games by an average of 13 points and headed into their Week 4 bye atop the West at 3-0. But Saskatchewan hadn’t faced an elite team yet with their three victories coming against the Lions, Tiger-Cats and Redblacks, who finished the season a combined 16-26.

The Riders came crashing down to earth in a hurry, losing a Banjo Bowl home-and-home with the Blue Bombers and having quarterback Cody Fajardo leave the game midway through the third quarter of their Week 6 showdown because of a possible concussion.

“Winnipeg is the class of the league right now,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said. “I think they are better than the rest of us and I think it’s by quite a bit.”

While the Bombers remained tops in the league all season, Saskatchewan got back on track with an easy win over the Argonauts. The week after, they were in tough against the BC Lions but Fajardo reached through traffic on a crowded goal line to score a game-winning TD on the last play from scrimmage and give the Roughriders their second straight win and move them to 5-2 on the season.

 

CFL: Roughriders 31, Lions 24

After Stefan Flintoft botched a punt late in the fourth quarter, Cody Fajardo took advantage and put together a game-winning drive to lead the Riders to their second consecutive win. Lucky Whitehead once again starred for B.C., racking up 111 receiving yards and two TDs, while Ricardo Louis had a breakout game for Saskatchewan with his first career score, as well clutch catches on the final drive.

"We’ve got a lot of heart and I think it showed," Dickenson said after the win.

Saskatchewan would go on to finish out the year at 9-5, good for second in the West Division behind the juggernaut Blue Bombers.

Fajardo didn’t look quite as good as he did in 2019 when he finished runner-up in Most Outstanding Player voting to Hamilton’s Brandon Banks, but he was still one of the more consistent quarterbacks in the league.

The 29-year-old finished third in passing yards (2,970), second in passing TDs (14) and led all quarterbacks in rushing yards (468).

“Cody Fajardo, all he does it win. He was 12-4 in 2019, 9-4 this year as a starter. He hit a goalpost in 2019, otherwise he’s going to the Grey Cup. He’s a winner. And he’s surrounded himself outstanding players and they’re just getting better. You’ve got Duke Williams in the mix now along with a healthy Shaq Evans. And William Powell, I think he’s been used smartly and sparingly over the course of the season. He’s putting in a little Jamal Morrow. This football team is peaking at the right time,” CFL analyst Matt Dunigan said.  

 

Stamps season at a glance

Embedded Image

It was a tale of two seasons for the Calgary Stampeders in 2021, which makes them a hard team to predict heading into the playoffs.

Let’s start with the bad.

Off to a rough start at 2-4, the Stampeders were at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton to take on a Tiger-Cats team that was starting David Watford at quarterback because of injuries to both Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans. On the other side, Bo Levi Mitchell was coming off a 276-yard game the week before and was 12-0 in his career against the Ticats. Should have been an easy one for the Stamps, right?

Not exactly. Watford was steady under centre and Mitchell was anything but as Hamilton escaped with a 23-17 victory to send the Stamps into their bye week at 2-5.

Mitchell threw for no touchdowns and one interception – his seventh in four starts – that was returned for a touchdown by Simoni Lawrence.

 

CFL Must See: Lawrence scores on pick-6 to get Hamilton right back in it

Simoni Lawrence intercepts a pass by Bo Levi Mitchell and takes it back to the house as the Tiger-Cats quickly answer back.

With 2:20 left in the game, the two-time MOP winner was pulled in favour of backup Jake Maier.

“I’m never going to be good with that, just because I believe in myself," Mitchell said of head coach Dave Dickenson's decision to make a change. "If I was okay with that, that would be a problem, but regardless I’m not the coach."

But the Stampeders were a different team from Week 9 and on, stringing together two hard-fought wins against the Roughriders and a 39-10 beatdown of the Lions to even their record at 5-5.

Calgary clinched their 16th straight playoff berth a month later against those same Lions and closed the season out with a win over the league-leading Bombers to win five of their final six matchups.

While Mitchell finished with his worst statistical season in years – though missing a month early in the season with a broken fibula couldn’t have helped – he did not throw a pick over the final three weeks of the regular season and is a two-time Grey Cup MVP. 

“They have a former MOP at quarterback and obviously Kadeem Carey is an absolute monster, we know that… But it’s that defence. What Brent Monson has done with that defence. You know how I feel, I always look at defensive backfields and this group is an integral part of this league in everything but especially at playoff time,” CFL analyst Davis Sanchez said. 

 

Head to head

Embedded Image

The Stampeders and Roughriders played three times in a four-week span from Weeks 9 to 12 and it was Calgary coming out on top in two of the three matchups.

All three games were close.

In the first matchup, Shawn Bane and Malik Henry scored the first touchdowns of their CFL careers as the Stamps held on to win 23-17 at McMahon.

 

Bane scores first CFL touchdown to extend Calgary's early lead

Shawn Bane scores a touchdown on just the second catch of his CFL career as the Stampeders go up by two scores in the first quarter.

The teams were back at it at Mosaic a week later and this one was even closer. With the score tied at 19 at the end of the fourth quarter, Stamps kicker Rene Paredes split the uprights from 39 yards out to give Calgary their second straight win. Except the play was called back because of an illegal procedure, taking the points and the win off the board and forcing Paredes and the Stamps to move back five yards to re-kick.

Still, Paredes was unflappable as he nailed his fifth field goal of the game to give the visitors a 22-19 victory, their second in a row.

“I’ve never played with a better kicker,” Mitchell said after the game.

 

Mitchell praises Paredes: 'He's won me a lot of games'

Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell shared his thoughts on how his team battled for a second consecutive win against the Riders, and what was going through his head when Rene Paredes had to re-take the game-winning field goal.

In their third meeting, the Riders finally got some payback.

Fajardo went into the meeting 0-4 against Calgary in his career and Craig Dickenson had never beaten his brother – Calgary’s head coach Dave Dickenson – in Rider green.

Trailing 10-6 at the half, Saskatchewan rallied with two second-half touchdowns and the defence did the rest as they avoided the season sweep.

"I don't think it takes the pressure off of us, but I think there's a sense of relief we did finally beat Calgary and we can move on," the Riders head coach said.

"And if we do see them again, at least have the confidence to know we can beat them if we play our best."

They’ll get the chance to find out on Sunday.

 

Waiting in the wings

Embedded Image

As tough as it may be to get through this weekend, the conference final may be another story.

Standing in the way of a Grey Cup berth is the defending champion Blue Bombers, who followed up their 2019 title with a nearly flawless 11-3 regular season.

The Bombers did lose their final two games of the campaign, but they also didn’t have much to play for. Winnipeg clinched first place in the West Division more than a month ago – with a 45-0 shutout of the Lions no less – and went a perfect 7-0 at home, which is where the West final will be. They finished with a league-best plus-173 point differential, allowed 56 fewer points than the second-highest ranked defence and didn’t lose a game against a West Division team until the last week of the regular season when starting quarterback Zach Collaros and many other offensive starters only saw a handful of series.

No matter who wins this Sunday, getting to the Grey Cup is going to be one tall task. But who do the Insiders feel has the best chance to ensure we don’t have the first repeat champion since the Alouettes in 2009 and 2010?

Sanchez: “Calgary. I’ve got to go with – look. Just because you don’t want to bet against a quarterback that’s been there, done that, and that’s Bo Levi Mitchell. Also, you know I’m a defensive guy. What Brent Monson has done with that backend, these guys are too legit to quit playing on the backend.

Dunigan: “I’m going with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Cody Fajardo was 12-4 last year, he’s 9-4 this season. I love the defence, they got playmakers in the backend, they’ve got a defence that gets after it. A.C. Leonard and Loucheiz Purifoy are outstanding. William Powell has been smartly rested throughout the course of the course of the season. And you’ve got Jamal Morrow.