EDMONTON — What’s traditionally been a gruelling turnaround in the CFL will be slightly easier when the Edmonton Eskimos host the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday.
For nearly a quarter-century, the Eskimos have played in Calgary on Labour Day with the rematch just four days later in Edmonton. Since 1989, the lone exception to that schedule was in 1992.
Calgary (8-1) and Edmonton (7-2) get one more day’s rest than usual this year after the Stampeders’ 28-13 win Monday at McMahon Stadium.
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It’s not a lot, but a little more time to repair bodies and prepare brains for the second game that always feels like a marathon for players on both sides.
“This is going to be a four-quarter game,” Stampeder linebacker Juwan Simpson predicted before the team departed for the Alberta capital.
“If we feel in any way shape, form or fashion this game is going to be like it was the other day, we’ve got another thing coming. All these second games have almost come down to the wire.
“A lot of guys will be aching, but the game, the adrenaline gets you through it. But mentally, it’s ‘here we go, same team, same thing.’ You have to keep yourself in the meeting rooms, keep yourself getting healthy and not just take it for granted because you’re playing the same team.”
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The Stampeders are 2-0 against Edmonton in 2014 and clinched the season series with Monday’s victory. Calgary hasn’t lost Game 2 of the September home-and-home since 2006 and owns a 10-game winning streak against Edmonton.
This is Edmonton’s last chance in the regular season to get a win over their southern rival because the Alberta clubs don’t meet again in the second half of the schedule.
“The good thing is you’re playing the same opponent so you’re not going to put in a million new defences and offences or anything on special teams,” Eskimos head coach Chris Jones told reporters in Edmonton.
“You’ve got to go back in and look at what we did well and try to utlilize it and add a thing or two and that’s it.”
Eskimos quarterback Matt Nichols completed 18 of 30 pass attempts for 208 yards Monday, but Edmonton didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Calgary’s defence hasn’t given up one in 29 consecutive drives by opposing offences.
An injured thumb on Mike Reilly’s throwing hand kept the Esks quarterback out of Monday’s game and ended his run of consecutive CFL starts at 26. He didn’t throw the ball much in practices this week, which indicates another start for Nichols.
“It’s always a tough week when you only have a few days off in between games, but at the same time you don’t have to do the extra game planning,” Nichols said after Monday’s loss.
CFL all-star receiver Fred Stamps returns to Edmonton’s lineup after sitting out four games with a lower-body injury.
Grant Shaw, who had field goals from 13 and 44 yards Monday, has been put on Edmonton’s injured list. Hometown product Hugh O’Neill will handle kicking duties Saturday.
Calgary’s Edwin Harrison slides in at right tackle for Dan Federkeil, who left Monday’s game with an injury. Stampeder receiver Joe West will not play because he’ll be in Texas for his brother’s funeral.
Despite missing six games with concussion symptoms in July and August, Calgary running back Jon Cornish isn’t out of contention to win a third straight league rushing title.
But with nine games remaining, he’ll need more performances like the 163 yards he had Monday. The New Westminster, B.C., native is 253 yards behind current CFL leader Nic Grigsby of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The extra day of rest could especially benefit Cornish on Saturday, but he didn’t mind the short turnarounds of previous years.
“I’ve always liked playing on Fridays,” Cornish said. “I always enjoyed the sort of epicness of that quick turnaround.
“I know a lot of people weren’t super-fond of playing more than one football game in a week, but I liked that. It’s a challenge to rise to.”
Edmonton was 1-8 at the halfway point last season. Their six-win swing matches the CFL’s best mid-season improvement previously achieved twice by Hamilton (1960, 1997) and once by Toronto (1995).
Those teams played in the Grey Cup those years, so the Esks have reason to be optimistic despite their winless record against Calgary this season.
“This is probably the most confident team I’ve ever been on,” Eskimos linebacker J.C. Sherritt said. “Like we said after we took that loss, we were just happy we were going to play them again right now so we can line up again against them.”