Western Division Final pits Eskimos against Stampeders

Nov 19, 2014 - 4:01 PM Calgary, AB (SportsNetwork.com) - McMahon Stadium is the site of Sunday's Western Division Final between the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Eskimos, with the prize being a trip to the 102nd Grey Cup.

The Stampeders have been in a world all their own this season, winning four straight out of the gate and moving to 10-1 before coasting to the best overall record in the CFL at 15-3. By winning the division title, Calgary was rewarded with a week off between the regular season and the postseason, which is not how things finished out for Edmonton.

The Eskimos ended up with the second-best record in the league at 12-6 which, had the team been playing in the Eastern Division, would have given them the title over there and some much-needed time off before the start of the Grey Cup Playoffs. Instead, the Esks found themselves pitted against Saskatchewan, the defending Grey Cup title holder, in the Western Division Semifinal last weekend at Commonwealth Stadium.

Because Edmonton finished ahead of the Roughriders in the standings, the Eskimos played host and that was important in such a low-scoring affair, an 18-10 victory for the home team.

Edmonton managed to claim the victory despite generating only 262 yards of total offense and scoring just a single point after intermission. Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly both saw action under center for the Eskimos, the latter coming back from injury, and combined to hit 18-of-31 passes for 112 yards, but failed to get the ball into the end zone.

Nichols was sacked one time and intercepted once, while Reilly was taken down behind the line of scrimmage twice, but still somehow the Eskimos survived.

It was defense and special teams that put Edmonton over the top as the club picked off a total of five passes thrown by Kerry Joseph, adding a collective seven sacks of Joseph and Tino Sunseri before the smoke cleared.

Kicker Hugh O'Neill converted three of his five field goal attempts and finished with 12 points, while kick returner Kendial Lawrence brought back a punt 84 yards for the score in the second quarter.

The defensive effort by Edmonton should not have been a complete surprise, given that the unit tied for the league lead in interceptions with Calgary with 20 during the regular season. However, while the Stampeders were tops in the CFL with a plus-14 in the turnover department, Edmonton was just a plus- one because the Esks fumbled the ball away 17 times.

Although he missed a few games due to injury, Bo Levi Mitchell has been the driving force behind the Calgary offense this season. His emergence as one of the top young quarterbacks in the league has been nothing short of amazing, particularly when you consider how quickly coaches are prone to pull players when they are not producing as much as they need to be.

Mitchell exceeded expectations though, completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 3.389 yards and 22 touchdowns, second only to Toronto's Ricky Ray who had 28 majors through the air. The winner of the Walter Payton Award as the best offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision while at Eastern Washington, Mitchell ended up with the best efficiency rating in the CFL this season (98.3), thanks in part to throwing only eight interceptions in 264 attempts.

But the Stamps are far from a one-trick pony as they also have the top running back in the league in Jon Cornish. The only player to run for at least 1,000 yards this season (he gained 1,082), Cornish might not be available for this weekend as he was still on the injury list as of Wednesday morning. Should the Stamps be without Cornish, their next best option coming out of the backfield is Matt Walter who ran for 453 yards and two touchdowns on 79 attempts.

Over on the Edmonton side, John White stands as the most productive runner with his 852 yards and two majors on 123 carries. Reilly, when healthy and feeling a bit adventurous, is also a threat to pick up some yards on the ground, but given his status as someone who is returning from injury, don't expect to see him taking off down the field unless it is absolutely necessary.

Then again, Nichols may be in the starting lineup for the Eskimos once more, given how well he has played, for the most part, in the absence of Reilly.

These teams played a total of three times during the regular season, with the Stamps winning each outing, albeit by just four points in the first clash of the campaign back on July 24.

The most recent encounter took place in early September when the teams actually played a home-and-home series in a span of just five days. Calgary hosted the first meeting on Sept. 1 and came up with a 28-13 victory, but the following battle was much more competitive as host Edmonton bowed by only seven points, 41-34.

In that most recent meeting in Week 11, Mitchell threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores for the visitors, while Marquay McDaniel turned four receptions into 124 yards and a major. Cornish produced a game-high 109 yards and a score as well for the victorious visitors.

The Eskimos were led by Nichols who converted 25-of-43 passes for 333 yards and three scores, one each to Adarius Bowman and A.J. Guyton as the receiving duo combined for 14 receptions for 235 yards. Edmonton didn't do itself any favors by committing nine penalties for 95 yards either.

Edmonton has won the second-most Grey Cups behind Toronto (16) with 13 in 24 opportunities, the most recent of those titles coming in 2005's 38-35 double- overtime affair versus Montreal at BC Place.

As for the Stampeders, they were in the championship game just two years ago but lost to Toronto (35-22), which means their most recent win, the sixth in club history, was logged in 2008 versus Montreal (22-14).

The winner of this game will take on the survivor of the Montreal/Hamilton matchup for the right to take home the Grey Cup next weekend at BC Place in Vancouver.

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