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EDMONTON – And then there was one. The Calgary Stampeders remain the only unbeaten team in the CFL after taking down the Edmonton Eskimos 26-22 in round one of the Battle of Alberta Thursday night in front of 40,066 at Commonwealth Stadium.
The rivalry between the two teams has tapered off slightly in recent years, but there was no doubting what was the most anticipated game on the schedule in Week 5. Both teams entered unbeaten and on top of the West Division, with the winner taking sole position of first place in the CFL.
The teams will meet two more times this season.
After announcing that their starting tailback and reigning Most Outstanding Player, Jon Cornish, was placed on the six-game injured list with a concussion, the Stampeders continued along with Matt Walter in the backfield. It was another stalky tailback making plays early however.
Eight year veteran Rob Cote made the first of many big plays on special teams for the Stampeders when he pounced on a loose ball off a punt. Cote’s fumble recovery set up a 37-yard Rene Paredes field goal to get the scoring started.
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Thinning out the Stampeders depth at tailback even more was the fact that Walters left early with an injury. Jock Sanders took over the rushing duties for the remainder of the game.
After the Eskimos’ Grant Shaw countered with a 31-yarder of his own to tie it up, the Calgary Stampeders struck again. Third-year linebacker Kennan MacDougall broke through on an Edmonton punt and got a hand on Shaw’s attempt. He scooped up his own block and ran untouched into the end zone for the first major of the game and a 10-3 Calgary lead with just over six minutes remaining in the opening frame.
After surrendering two scores off special teams, the Edmonton offence looked to make some ground on their next possession. Mike Reilly entered Week 5 as the league’s third-leading passer but he had to share the next drive with backup Pat White. The two combined to get the ball into the hands of Adarius Bowman, Fred Stamps and rookie TB Kendial Lawrence for first downs. White then heaved a pass for rookie slotback Devon Bailey which fell incomplete but drew a pass interference call.
White then plunged forward on the next play to cap off the drive with a major and tie the game at 10 early in the second.
As the second quarter rolled along, the defences on both sides hunkered down.
Defensive back Aaron Grymes led an Eskimos secondary that was keeping everything underneath them, forcing Calgary’s punt team to take the field. As good as Chris Jones’ defence was and has been, it was Calgary’s ‘D’ that came up with the next big play.
Always around the ball, Fred Bennett undercut an Edmonton route and picked off a Reilly pass for another Stampeders forced turnover. Mitchell then completed passes to Jeff Fuller and Brad Sinopoli to set up another Paredes field goal.
The Esks answered with another field goal off the foot of Shaw and the teams were tied at 13 with halftime on the horizon.
An unconventional play however would lead to Calgary taking the lead before the teams hit the break.
With 16 seconds left, it was decision time for Jones. Scrimmaging inside their own 10, Edmonton had the option to either kick the ball away and potentially give the Stamps instant field position or concede a safety as well as the tie. Jones went with an even loftier option, electing to fake the punt – Shaw set up deep inside his own end zone, he flipped the ball after receiving the snap to Grymes who turned wide to his left and went up field. He was tackled roughly a yard short of the first down and the Stampeders took over at the Edmonton 16 yard line.
Mitchell and the Stamps made Edmonton pay for their missed gamble on the next play, throwing a touchdown strike to Fuller in the back of the end zone for the 16-yard major.
Capitalizing gave the Stamps a 20-13 lead at half after gaining all of their points off of Edmonton turnovers. The changes in possession spoke volumes for how the first half unfolded as great field position was all Calgary needed to maintain the lead despite still trying to figure out Edmonton’s secondary. No more evident in the fact that Mitchell produced just 33 yards passing in the first half.
If forcing turnovers and quickly acting on them was the mantra of the night, the Esks obliged as the second half got underway.
With the Stampeders set up inside their own end, John Hufnagel’s club gambled on third-and-inches from their 32-yard line. Backup QB Drew Tate fell forward but was spotted short as the Eskimos defence returned the favour with a stop. Similar to Mitchell, Reilly wasted little time finding the endzone after that, spotting a wide open Shamawd Chambers down the sidelines on a slant-and-go route for the Esks first passing major of the game. The Toronto native’s score was his first of the season and tied the game back up at 20.
The ensuing Stampeders possession saw Mitchell orchestrate a long and methodical drive but was only able to get a field goal out of it as once again the Eskimos defence held their own. The 10-play march was finished off with a 31-yard Paredes field goal to lift Calgary to a 23-20 lead.
Paredes would add another field goal, from 30 yards, to extend the lead to 26-20 with 8:55 left after a pair of pass interference calls and a spectacular 26-yard leaping grab by Fuller put the Stamps in position to do so.
The Eskimos had a trio of possessions down the stretch but couldn’t finish the job, dropping their first game of the season heading into a bye week.
The Stampeders now head into a Week 6 battle against BC at McMahon Stadium a perfect 4-0 for the first time since 1996.
Notes: With the win Bo Levi Mitchell tied Jeff Garcia for the most consecutive wins as a starter in franchise history with 7 … A carry over from Edmonton’s last home game, the 50/50 charity total in the stadium on Thursday was over $345,000.