CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders are running out of playoff runway.
Calgary (4-9) is tied with the Edmonton Elks for fourth in the West Division and four points back of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-7), who are holding down the division's final playoff spot.
With five games remaining in their regular season, the Stampeders are desperate for a win Saturday over the visiting Montreal Alouettes to stay in the post-season hunt.
"You keep hope, you know it's there and you can do it, but if we don't show up here this week at home, the light is going to burn a little dimmer and dimmer," Stampeder coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said Friday at McMahon Stadium.
The Stampeders haven't been 4-9 in 20 years. Their run of 17 straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy.
"I would say the belief is there because we're not mathematically eliminated," Stampeder quarterback Jake Maier said. "You can't make the playoffs in one week. We understand what we have to do. It's going to be difficult, but that's sports, man."
Montreal (6-7) is tied for second in the East with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Toronto Argonauts are already assured first in the East, leaving the Als and Ticats jockeying for second and a home playoff game.
Saturday's side plot at McMahon is the Alouettes want to reduce Calgary's chances of gaining a playoff berth via a crossover to the East Division.
A fourth-place team in one division with more points than the No. 3 team in the other division gets a playoff berth.
The Stampeders are coming off a bye week, while the Alouettes are playing a game for a ninth straight week.
"I know they're coming off a bye week and sometimes when you come off the bye week, they throw in things that haven't been on tape," Alouettes quarterback Cody Fajardo said. "We're going to have to take it one series at a time and understand what their flavour of the week is.
"We just have to limit the turnovers, we have to execute in the red zone, and we have to move the ball and stay on the field to keep our defence rested, and we'll have a good chance to win the football game."
Up 16 points on the Elks, the Stampeders gave up an 18-point fourth quarter to Edmonton to fall 25-23 on Sept. 13. The Stampeders have lost five games this season by four points or less.
"You have to take advantage of the game-defining moments. At times we have. At others we haven't," Maier said.
Maier's 3,310 passing yards are second to Winnipeg's Zach Collaros (3,480), but the Stampeders rank eighth out of nine teams in touchdown catches. Calgary's defence is seventh in average points allowed per game (26.9)
Montreal is on a four-game losing skid and 0-7 against the CFL's top teams: Winnipeg, B.C. and Toronto.
The Alouettes are 6-0 against the rest of the CFL, however, including a 25-18 victory over the Stampeders on July 30.
Montreal dropped a 23-20 heartbreaker last week to the defending Grey Cup champion Argos, who kicked a field goal in the last minute and blocked Montreal's subsequent 45-yard field-goal attempt to send the game into overtime.
"During this losing streak, we haven't quite made those plays," Montreal head coach Jason Maas said. "Two of the four games, I think we've had a chance at the end to win them, and just haven't made them.
"The two other ones, I don't know that we gave ourselves a chance at the end of the game and that's just due to all three phases, not clicking for 60 minutes.
"We know what we're coming into in this building, but our focus is on doing our jobs on every single play and do not take a play off."
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (6-7) at CALGARY STAMPEDERS (4-7)
4 p.m. ET, McMahon Stadium
AMBLES OUT: The Calgary Stampeders announced late Friday the release of receiver Markeith Ambles. The 31-year-old had 15 catches for 193 yards in four games this season. The Stampeders signed Ambles in August after he was released by the Argonauts.
BEGELTON'S BIG SEASON: Stampeder slotback Reggie Begelton needs 91 yards for a season 1,000 for the second time in his career after 1,444 in 2019.
SACK INTRIGUE: The Alouettes have allowed a CFL-high 50 sacks in 13 games, while Calgary ranks fourth in getting to the quarterback with 35. Calgary's registered more sacks than its opponent in eight of 13 games.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press