CALGARY – Jon Cornish ran for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries, lifting the Calgary Stampeders to a 39-15 win over the Edmonton Eskimos at McMahon Stadium Friday night.
The league’s leading rusher, whose challenges last week in Saskatchewan were well-documented, was a man on a mission, generating his best performance of the season.
The Eskimos turned to Matt Nichols to lead them at quarterback with injuries sidelining both Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph. The Eastern Washington product had seen only limited reps this season but Friday night marked his first career start.
These are two teams that are all too familiar with one another, having their third meeting in four weeks and the defences showed they have been watching the seemingly endless amounts of film; holding their opponents to short drives and shutting one another out in the first quarter.
Calgary would lay claim to the first points in the second quarter, however, when Cornish took a direct snap, broke through the first wave of tacklers and then raced untouched 73 yards for a major. The tailback, who ran for a 59-yard touchdown in the last meeting between these two clubs, went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
In doing so, he became the 8th Canadian-born player to reach the mark. The most recent to hit 1,000 before him was Eskimos running back Jerome Messam who accomplished the feat last season.
Cornish’s touchdown seemed to spark the offences on both sides following a dominant opening quarter by the defences.
First, Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn found receiver Joe West for a 30-yard gain before delivering a strike down the field to a wide open Johnny Forzani for a 44-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
Forzani had a big gain earlier in the contest which was called back on a penalty but it was the 7th game in his last 8 where the Calgary native recorded gains of 30 or more on one play.
Nichols, who started with relatively good field position throughout the first quarter but couldn’t seem to get momentum going, finally got on track. First, finding Matt Carter for a 34-yard gain and then connecting with SB Fred Stamps on a corner route for a touchdown, showcasing the veteran receiver’s superb balance and concentration.
The Esks score, which cut the lead to 14-7, was set up by an impressive 51-yard kick return by DB Weldon Brown.
Cornish continued to be the story in the first half however, rushing 11 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. His last big run set up an 11-yard Rene Paredes field goal to extend Calgary’s lead to 17-7.
The Stamps would take advantage of a failed third and one-and-a-half gamble by the Esks just passed midfield and hit another field with no time left in the half to enter the locker room with a 20-7 lead.
Nichols finished the first half completing 7 of 14 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown.
Calgary scrimmaged to open the second half but it almost started out in disaster when the direct snap play that worked so well in the first half, ended in a fumble by Cornish in Stampeders territory.
Edmonton failed to capitalize and could only muster a single point when Grant Shaw missed a 46-yard field goal wide right.
Making matters worse for Edmonton was losing star linebacker JC Sherritt, who left the game with an injury.
The teams would trade possessions before Calgary punter Rob Maver pinned the Eskimos inside their own five yard line. Operating out of the shotgun, Nichols would reel in a high snap and hand off to running back Hugh Charles but the scat back was stuffed and tackled in the endzone for a safety.
Nichols makes first start
With Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph unable to start with injuries, third-stringer Matt Nichols made his first career start. His debut went in waves, finishing the game 14 of 26 for 167 with 1 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also added one rushing touchdown.
The ensuing kickoff would give the Stamps the ball back in great field possession and Paredes would knock another field goal, from 27 yards out, on the strength of a 34-yard est reception.
Calgary would extend their lead to 25-8.
With the passing game struggling, Nichols used his legs to get Edmonton back on the board. First, the pivot escaped the pocket for a 19-yard drive-extending gain and then split defenders a few plays later for a 17-yard touchdown run to cut the Calgary lead 25-15.
It capped off a 9-play 70-yard drive, their longest of the contest.
On the heels of a 29-yard Matt Walter scamper in short yardage, the Stampeders would set up their response to Nichols’ major. Cornish would help finish off the 7-play, 71-yard possession with a 1-yard dive, extending the lead to 32-15.
The Stampeders officially put the game out of reach when Nik Lewis hauled in a 5-yard pass from Glenn to put Calgary in front 39-15. The 68-yard drive was highlighted once again by Walter, whose 20-yard gallop set up the major the play before.
Walter finished the game with 6 carries for 55 yards.
Glenn would hand the rest of the game over to Bo-Levi Mitchell after completing 21 of 28 passes for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns. Drew Tate, Calgary’s starter at the start of the season, also dressed for his first contest since injuring his non-throwing shoulder but did not see any action.
Another bright spot for the Stampeders was West who had a career-high 6 receptions for 135 yards with a long of 50.
Nichols finished the game 14 of 26 for 167 with 1 touchdowns and 1 interception. He also added one rushing touchdown.
Next Week for Calgary: The Stamps travel to Vancouver to take on the BC Lions in a key West Division battle. BUY TICKETS. Next Week for Edmonton: Hamilton will head West for a clash with the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. BUY TICKETS.