Season finale for Stampeders, Blue Bombers a battle of the backup quarterbacks
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CALGARY — Andrew Buckley's first CFL start will feel like old times.
The quarterback marshalled the University of Calgary Dinos offence in cold and snowy conditions at McMahon Stadium during his decorated college career.
The 24-year-old Calgarian will be behind centre Friday for the Calgary Stampeders when they conclude their regular season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Friday's forecast is for flurries and a low of minus-15.
The venue and its conditions familiar to the two-time Hec Crighton Trophy winner in CIS football, Buckley will see what he can do in them in his first pro start.
"I've played here in bad conditions before. I'm comfortable with it," the Canadian quarterback said Thursday. "It's a chance for me to show I can move the ball and control the offence."
The outcome of Friday's game is meaningless in the standings to the Stampeders (13-2-1), who have first in the CFL's West Division and the division final Nov. 19 locked down.
The Blue Bombers (11-6) can secure second and play the division semifinal at home Nov. 12 with a victory.
The Stampeders have lost two in a row for the first time in five years, while the Bombers have dropped three of their last four.
Calgary and Winnipeg may boast the CFL's best records, but could use some momentum heading into the post-season.
"We're coming in here to win a game, but we try not to add all that other stuff from the rest of the season, previous couple losses," Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said.
"Certainly winning is important and the feeling of winning and getting that is important, but I don't know if we're going to emphasize it in that way."
Both teams are starting backup quarterbacks, but for different reasons.
Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson gave Buckley the nod to save Bo Levi Mitchell for the post-season, while Dan LeFevour is in for injured Winnipeg starter Matt Nichols (leg).
LeFevour, 30, is the more experienced of the two backups going 2-5 in career CFL starts.
"Just trust in yourself and trust in your prep is the biggest thing," LeFevour said.
"You can't control everything, but there are some things you can control which I feel I've already done this week with my prep and my execution during practice."
Mitchell has been dealing with an undisclosed malady in his throwing arm for weeks, although he passed for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last week's 29-20 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos.
"I don't want the game off. I want to be out there playing with my guys," Mitchell said.
"It's what we need to do to be as healthy as we can be for the playoff game. Time off obviously helps you. Do I need it necessarily? No, but it's probably the smart thing to do."
Coincidentally, Mitchell's first career start was also against Winnipeg.
"My brother texted me the day of the game and said 'dude, just go out there and don't suck,'" the quarterback recalled. "It made me laugh, it made me clear my head."
Mitchell says he's already relayed that story to Buckley in hopes it would have the same effect on the young quarterback.
Buckley, who gets on the field regularly as the ball carrier in short-yardage situations, is 20-for-26 in pass completions this season. He played the entire second half of Calgary's 60-1 blowout of Hamilton in July.
"I feel confident he can get the job done," Dickenson said. "He needs to play. It's been awhile since he's been running meaningful plays."
Dickenson believes weather shouldn't negate the passing game. He points out that receivers have the advantage in knowing where they're going on a slippery field, while defensive backs don't.
O'Shea counters that a cold and slippery ball is harder to secure.
But expect Stampeder running back Jerome Messam and Blue Bomber counterpart Andrew Harris to get their share of carries.
Messam, the CFL's leading rusher, needs just 14 yards to reach a season 1,000 for the eighth time in his career. Harris requires 33 yards to get to 1,000.
"I don't have the depth at running back this week to not let Jerome carry the rock," Dickenson acknowledged.
Calgary running back Roy Finch, the league's top punt returner, will play Friday after sitting out three games with injury.