Dave Dickenson doesn't have the luxury of resting his starters for the Calgary Stampeders' regular-season finale.
Calgary (12-5) visits the B.C. Lions (9-8) on Saturday night needing a win or tie to clinch first in the West Division and home field for the Nov. 18 conference final. A loss would give the Saskatchewan Roughriders (12-6) top spot and force the Stampeders to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-7) in the Western semifinal Nov. 11.
The Stamps appeared to be a virtual lock to finish first after their 38-16 home win over the Toronto Argonauts on Sept. 28. That victory cemented Calgary a playoff berth for a club-record 14th straight year and improved its record to a stellar 11-2.
But the following week, Calgary had to fight for a 12-6 road win over Montreal. Since then, the Stampeders have dropped three straight games to West Division rivals.
B.C. started that losing streak with a 26-21 road victory over Calgary on Oct. 13. Regardless of the outcome Saturday, the Lions can finish no better than fourth and will cross over to the East Division come the playoffs.
It's the first time in the Bo Levi Mitchell era that Calgary has lost three straight. The veteran quarterback has completed 87-of-132 passes (65.9 per cent) in his last four starts for 909 yards with five TDs and five interceptions while being sacked eight times.
What's more, Calgary's offence has cracked the 300-yard plateau just twice over that span. But the unit is tied with Saskatchewan in allowing the fewest sacks (27).
But B.C. counters with a CFL-best home record (7-1).
While the circumstances are less than ideal, at least Calgary still controls its own destiny heading into the contest.
"If you could tell us at the start of training camp you've got to win your last game to win the West, I think most of us would take that," Dickenson told reporters in Calgary. "That's where we're at.
"We feel like we're in for a big challenge but let's go do it. Let's go out to the west coast, play a good football team, come out of there with a win and then give ourselves a better chance to get the ultimate goal, which is a Grey Cup."
The contest does have some meaning for the Lions. It will mark the final home game of Wally Buono's illustrious CFL coaching career.
The 68-year-old will retire at season's end and comes in as the league leader in career coaching wins (282). Buono comes full circle as he made his CFL head-coaching debut at B.C. Place Stadium on July 13, 1990 with the Calgary Stampeders, a game that ended in a 38-38 tie.
Buono amassed a 153-79-2 coaching record (.658 win percentage) with Calgary (1990-2002) before joining the Lions and posting a 129-85-1 (.602) mark.
He has a winning record against all but one CFL team (36-40 versus Edmonton) and his squads have traditionally excelled at home (163-61-0 .728).
And Buono has won a record-tying five Grey Cups as a head coach (three with Calgary, two with B.C.). He played on two CFL championship Montreal Alouettes teams (1974, '77).
Toronto Argonauts at Ottawa Redblacks (Friday night)
The Redblacks (10-7) will rest several regulars — including quarterback Trevor Harris and slotback Brad Sinopoli — having swept a home-and-home with Hamilton to clinch first in the East. James Franklin is expected to start for Toronto (4-13) which has lost eight of its last nine games and sports a dismal 0-8 road record.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Edmonton Eskimos (Saturday afternoon)
The Eskimos (8-9) look to end a miserable season on a winning note. Still, the home team will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013, CFL passing leader Mike Reilly’s first year with the club. Winnipeg has cemented third in the West and is expected to rest many of its starters.
Montreal Alouettes at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Saturday night)
Montreal (4-13) looks to end its season with two straight wins. Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel earned his first CFL victory in last weekend's 40-10 decision over Toronto. He returns to face the team that traded him this summer. The Ticats (8-9) have clinched a playoff berth and are expected to sit many of their veterans.
Last week: 2-2.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. B.C.'s record was incorrect in a previous version.