Lions, Stampeders meet in Western Semi-Final in first taste of playoff football for Rourke, Maier

In a new era for both the BC Lions and the Calgary Stampeders, both teams are excited and looking forward to the CFL Western Semi-Final on Sunday afternoon with young quarterbacks Nathan Rourke and Jake Maier getting their first taste of playoff football.

After a sensational start to the season, Rourke was injured in Week 11 when he suffered a Lisfranc sprain to his right foot against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The 24-year-old underwent successful surgery and has since returned to practice. He took first team reps on Tuesday and said he was able to trust his body a lot more.

“During practice I was definitely having a tough time trusting it,” said Rourke.  “But in the game I honestly forgot It was even an issue before I had to jog off the field. I think we’re at a better spot now so that’s not going to be as much of a concern.”

As he nears his first career playoff start, Rourke couldn’t help but say he was excited.

“I’m excited to play at home in front of all these great BC Lions fans and the ticket sales [has] been really fun. It’s going to be a fun environment. It’s a similar feeling I’m getting right now to the first game of the season where we knew we we’re going to have a lot of people in the stands and a lot of excitement for the first game.”

While he is the opposing quarterback, Rourke was quick to compliment the Stampeders pivot and their defence.

“With Jake, he’s had a tremendous season and you don’t really ever play against him, you’re playing against their defence and I look at their defence as having a lot of experience…I don’t expect anything less than their best.”

On Wednesday, Lions head coach Rick Campbell said Rourke looked good.

“He [Rouke] looks great to me,” said Campbell. “We’ll have to watch the film and do those things, but he’s probably frustrated about a few reads, which [is] typical of him, but physically, [he] sure looked good…he’s saying he feels good.”

Another Lions weapon seen preparing Wednesday for the Western Semi-Final is wide receiver Bryan Burnham, who hasn’t played since Week 16 against the Stampeders. After suffering a broken wrist in that late September game against Calgary, he returned to practice earlier in the week and expressed his anticipation for Sunday.

“This is what it’s all about, man, I’m excited,” said the 32-year-old Burnham. “The team’s just done an amazing job to put us in this position to have a home playoff game and we’re looking forward to a packed house. And It’s going to be a battle and I’m really excited about it. Really looking forward to it.”

Of the many offensive weapons in the Stampeders’ arsenal, running back Ka’Deem Carey presents himself as a lethal threat. Carey, 30, finished the regular season as the league’s rushing champion with 1,088 yards and 10 touchdowns and is someone Campbell is looking to slow down.

“They’ve committed to running the ball and they’ve done a good job of it. We have to commit to stopping the run so that can be through scheme, can be through playing better, can be through all 12 guys on the field contributing to stopping the run. It’s not just our d-line and things like that, our corners are going to be asked to play a D gap or an E gap, whatever it is,” said Campbell.

Handing off the ball to Carey will be Maier, who gets his first taste of the playoffs as the Stampeders’ starting quarterback. While it’s his first start, Maier has experienced a playoff atmosphere. The 25-year-old backed up veteran Bo Levi Mitchell in the Stampeders’ 33-30 overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2021 Western semifinal.

This season, Maier and the Stampeders have dropped two of their matches against the Lions by less than three points. Once in Week 10 when the Stampeders lost 41-40 and again in Week 15 when they fell 31-29. Knowing all of that, Maier likes how his Stampeders match up with Rourke’s Lions.

“It’s going to be one of the best matchups of the year and it has been all year,” said Maier on Wednesday. “We know what they’re capable of, we know how electric that place is going to be on Sunday. We just have to block out the noise, play our brand of football and really play our best game. Nothing better than playoff sports: you have to play your best when your best is needed and that’s where we are.”

Carey agrees with his quarterback.

“We’re a very good team too, but right now I just feel like we’re a really hot team,” said the West Division All-Star running back.

“We’re going into this playoffs hot [and] we preach that last year, we preached it this year, and I feel like this team had a little bit of fire from last year and the snowballs keep going. I’m excited to see what we’re about to do this year.”

Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson also feels his Stampeders have peaked at the right time.

“We’re up against a great opponent and the west has been great all year. We’ve competed well though,” said Dickenson. “All the games we’ve played, I felt we’ve been in them; could have won a few more, maybe lost one or two others. I do feel like our team is confident but we’re not cocky because we know we’re going up against a great BC Lions team and we know what it’s going to take to win. And it’ll take everything and everyone on board and hopefully we can get it done.”