The Labour Day Classic takes on a whole new meaning this time around as the top two teams in the CFL battle it out for league supremacy when the Calgary Stampeders welcome the Edmonton Eskimos to McMahon Stadium on Monday afternoon.
For Edmonton, this will be an opportunity for revenge, given that the team's only loss thus far in 2014 came against the Stamps at home back on July 24 by a score of 26-22. Since that setback, Edmonton has rattled off three straight wins and is tied with Calgary for the best record in the league entering Week 10 action.
Last Friday, the Eskimos appeared to be well on their way to a comfortable win against visiting Toronto, putting up a 31-10 lead at the break, but the team was held scoreless in the third quarter and needed a late interception return for a touchdown to give them some breathing room in the 41-27 final.
Starting quarterback Mike Reilly, the main reason why Edmonton is off to such a strong start in 2014, suffered an apparent hand injury in the first quarter and never returned, leaving Matt Nichols to handle the passing responsibilities the rest of the way. Nichols completed 15-of-28 attempts for 178 yards and a score, was picked off twice and sacked three times.
Third-string quarterback Pat White, who also appeared on special teams, carried the ball four times for 23 yards and a score, while Kendial Lawrence responded with six carries for a game-high 91 yards and a major as well.
The defense for the Eskimos stepped up in a big way as they recorded three interceptions of Ricky Ray, two of which were returned for touchdowns, not to mention recovering two of three forced fumbles as well. Dexter McCoil had two picks and Odell Willis finished with one INT and two sacks for the Esks. For his efforts, McCoil was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week.
For the Stamps, a team which fell to British Columbia by a single point (25-24) at home back on Aug. 1, they too are enjoying a three-game win streak at the moment, thanks to a 32-7 thumping of the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks last weekend.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who has now won 10 of his first 11 CFL starts dating back to last season, converted 16-of-29 passes for 266 yards in the victory. The game also saw the return of running back Jon Cornish who ran for 74 yards on 16 carries. Joe West, playing with a heavy heart after learning of the death of his brother, accounted for four receptions for 129 yards on the day as well.
West was honored as the CFL's Offensive Player of the Week for his unwavering efforts on the field.
Also having a day to remember was Sederrick Cunningham who not only scored his first CFL major on a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter, but he followed that up minutes later with a 67-yard punt return for a score as well.
While the Calgary offense was generating a massive 458 yards, the defense was easily handling the RedBlacks, limiting the hosts to a mere 197 yards, sending starting quarterback Henry Burris to the bench and then taking out backup Thomas DeMarco with a season-ending ACL injury.
The Stamps are at the top of the CFL scoring list currently with 27.9 ppg, but not that far behind is second-place Edmonton with 26.8 ppg. Obviously, both programs know how to put points on the board, so it could come down to which defense makes the bigger plays this week.
Both sides are giving up less than 300 ypg, with the Esks leading the league in that department with just 273.6 ypg surrendered. Another key stat to keep in mind is turnovers, with Calgary being one of two teams (Saskatchewan) that is in double digits in terms of turnover margin, with a plus-11. Not to be overlooked is an aggressive pass defense for the Eskimos that has produced a league-high 13 interceptions, thanks in large part to McCoil and his recent exploits.
On the offensive side of things, Mitchell is currently fourth in the league in passing yards with 1,958, but thanks to 12 TDs and just four INTs, his 98.8 efficiency rating is tops among starters heading into action this week. Providing the signal caller with even more fire power is the return of receiver Maurice Price to the active roster after missing seven games with a broken hand.
As far as the all-time series between the clubs is concerned, Edmonton is ahead by a count of 123-90-3 in regular-season bouts dating back to 1949. However, Calgary has rattled off nine straight wins in the relationship and has come out victorious in 15 of the most recent 17 meetings.
The squads will be right back at it five days after this encounter, meeting in Edmonton on Sept. 6.