CALGARY — Jon Cornish ran for more yards this season than any Canadian ever has in the CFL, but there was a watershed moment in his breakout campaign.
It came July 28 when the Calgary Stampeders running back ran for -1 yards on six carries in a 34-8 home loss to the B.C. Lions. That gave the native of New Westminster, B.C., 199 yards rushing through five games, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
Western Final Playoff Centre
The 2012 Western Final matchup is set as the BC Lions host the Calgary Stampeders. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game.
But Cornish ran for 170 yards on 20 carries and a TD the following week in a 31-20 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The six-year veteran amassed 1,258 yards over Calgary’s final 13 regular-season games (averaging 6.1 yards per carry) for a CFL-best 1,457 yards, breaking Norm Kwong’s record for most rushing yards in a season by a Canadian (1,437 yards).
Calgary also rebounded, with the Hamilton win starting a 10-3 stretch that earned it a 12-6 record and second in the West Division behind the defending Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions.
B.C. hosts Calgary in the Western Final on Sunday while the Toronto Argonauts visit the Montreal Alouettes for the East crown. The winners meet in the 100th Grey Cup on Nov. 25 at Rogers Centre.
The Lions won the season series with Calgary 2-1 but the Stampeders took the last meeting 41-21 on Oct. 26.
That contest meant nothing in the standings as both clubs had already clinched their playoff berths. With starter Travis Lulay (shoulder) injured, backups Mike Reilly and Thomas DeMarco took the snaps.
Cornish, the West Division nominee as outstanding player and top Canadian, had 86 yards rushing for Calgary, which had Kevin Glenn, Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell all play quarterback. It was Tate’s first action since hurting his shoulder July 7 against Toronto.
All three had touchdown passes against B.C., with Tate earning the start in Calgary’s 30-27 win over Edmonton in the regular-season finale before being named the club’s playoff starter.
Tate was 22-of-36 passing for 363 yards and two TDs in the Stampeders’ 36-30 Western Semi-Final win over Saskatchewan, including the game-winning 68-yard scoring strike to Romby Bryant with 19 seconds left.
Cornish had 109 yards rushing on 18 carries and was a significant contributor to a Calgary offence that rolled up nearly 500 total yards on a Riders’ defence that allowed the second-fewest in the CFL (333 per game).
B.C.’s defence will present a definite challenge. It was first in 18 of the CFL’s 25 defensive categories, including fewest points (19.7 per game), total yards (295 per game) and most sacks (47). Defensive lineman Keron Williams had a league-best 12 sacks. Middle linebacker Adam Bighill was tied for third with nine, while finishing second overall in tackles with 104.
B.C. was also the CFL’s stingiest defence against the pass and run. Calgary had the league’s second-best rushing attack this season.
The Lions will have Lulay back under centre Sunday. The CFL’s outstanding player last season started B.C.’s regular season-ending 17-6 win over Saskatchewan, his first since Oct. 12 against Hamilton.
B.C. also has its own Canadian star running back in Andrew Harris. The Winnipeg native had a CFL-best 1,830 yards from scrimmage – the most ever by a Canuck – and was third in rushing with 1,112 yards.
Harris was also the Lions’ second-leading receiver with 718 yards.
Tate will start against B.C. with Glenn available should Tate struggle or be injured. Glenn led the Stampeders to nine wins in the 14 games he started during Tate’s absence.