Let the tournament begin!
The entire Canadian Football League heads into the final four weeks of the season with divisional matchups for the balance of the season. For the Calgary Stampeders, that gives them a a chance to learn their fate in head-to-head competition.
The Stampeders enter the 'tournament' with a two-game lead on the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the British Columbia Lions. However, three of their final four games are against those teams. The point is, the Stampeders are in good shape but their closest rivals have a great shot at running the Stampeders down.
On the topic of running, Stampeders tailback Jon Cornish has a great opportunity to run down some significant milestones over the final four weeks of the year.
The running star needs just 43 yards to snap his own record for yards in a season by a Canadian running back. Barring injury that seems to be a foregone conclusion. He also has an outside shot at the franchise single-season running mark.
Cornish is 481 yards behind the franchise mark of 1,896 yards set by Willie Burden in 1975. Cornish would need to average slightly more than 120 yards per game over his final four outings. It would be a tall, but not impossible order for him to crack that total.
Cornish is coming off a career-best rushing performance against Winnipeg. His 208 total yards made him just the fourth Stampeder running back to hit the 200-yard Plateau (Willie Burden, Lovell Coleman, Earl Lunsford) and the first to do so since Burden achieved the mark in 1975.
Amazingly, two of the most prolific backs inteam history, Joffrey Reynolds and Kelvin Anderson, did not crack the 200-yard barrier in their career.
Cornish will also duel with Saskatchewan’s Kory Sheets for the league rushing title over the final four games.
A new player will be backing up Cornish this week against BC. Running back/returner Clifton Smith is expected to make his Canadian Football League debut. The former Pro Bowl player is also slotted in for return duty. The Stamps will operate without running back Matt Walter. He is undergoing concussion testing protocols, following a hit late in the Winnipeg game.
The returners will also be operating behind a revamped group of blockers. The Stampeders special teams took a huge hit last week when Wilkerson De Souza and Alvin Bowen went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Fortunately, the Stampedrs have activated special teams standout Karl McCartney who has been sidelined with a hand injury.
As bad as the double ACL injuries to De Souza and Bowen were, it wasn’t the end of season-ending injuries for the Calgary Stampeders.
Slotback Chris Bauman was involved in a practice collision during a drill this week. He went down in a heap and was diagnosed with a season-ending torn ACL. The incident ended a terribly frustrating year for Bauman.
He was off to a strong start in training camp, before suffering a broken wrist. The wrist took longer than expected to heal, keeping him sidelined until recently. He was on the reserve list last week and was preparing to return shortly to the lineup. Now that return will have to wait until 2014.
Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.