CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders left little doubt as to which Alberta team is best on Sunday evening at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, earning a 43-18 win over the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Final.
They’ll face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 102nd Grey Cup Championship on Nov. 30 in Vancouver, in a rematch of the 1999 Grey Cup.
Bo Levi Mitchell threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in his first career playoff start, as the Stamps jumped out to a 29-4 halftime lead and never looked back. The Stamps improved to 4-0 against their Alberta rival on the season with the win, but more importantly will play in the Grey Cup for the second time in three years.
Eric Rogers, who earned the surprise nod over veteran speedster Maurice Price, caught two of Mitchell’s touchdown passes and picked up 60 yards on three catches, while Jon Cornish and Marquay McDaniel combined for the other three touchdowns.
Cornish was a non-factor in the run game against a stout Esks’ front-seven, but had a big night through the air with 120 receiving yards on four catches — including a 78-yard catch-and-run in the first half. The New Westminster native added a late touchdown on the ground, giving him two on the day.
Reilly and the Esks began mounting a third-quarter comeback for the Esks, pulling them within 18 points after scoring two quick touchdowns. The multi-talented quarterback was forced out of the game early in the fourth, however, after seemingly re-injuring the same foot that held him out of part of the Western Semi-Final.
That was it for the Esks, who couldn’t dig out of an early hole after the Stamps’ first-half scoring surge.
Mitchell gave the McMahon faithful plenty to cheer for early in the first, striking on a deep ball to McDaniel for a 46-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score.
The Stamps’ first-time playoff pivot let his defence settle in from there, as the Eskimos were forced to punt on all four first-quarter possessions.
It paid off when the Calgary offence took over early in the second quarter. A pass interference penalty against Marcell Young set the wheels in motion, before Mitchell looked to challenge the Esks’ number one-ranked defence vertically yet again.
Mitchell, already off to a strong start, connected with Simon Charbonneau-Campeau for a 61-yard pickup, moving the Stamps onto the doorstep with a chance to build on their early lead. After trying with Cornish on first down, Mitchell finished the drive off himself with a two-yard touchdown run, putting Calgary up 14-1.
The early landslide continued against the Esks, as Reilly was intercepted on the very next drive by Calgary’s Fred Bennett. But the Eskimos may have found some good fortune and a chance to regain momentum, as the defence came up with a stop and Rene Paredes missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Reilly and the Edmonton offence couldn’t take advantage of the second chance, however. After another two-and-out by the Calgary defence, the Stamps struck again on another big play.
On second down, Cornish, the CFL’s leading rusher despite playing only half a season, took a swing pass and burned the Esks for a 78-yard touchdown. It was the third play of 46 yards or more in the first half by the Stampeders, who were suddenly out to a 22-1 second-quarter lead over the Eskimos.
Reilly drove the Eskimos back for three points the other way, cutting the deficit to 22-4 – but the Stampede continued for the home team soon after. After Cornish was stuffed on first down, Mitchell connected with Joe West for a 16-yard gain to keep the sticks moving.
Cornish added another 30 yards through the air on a check down on the very next play, before Mitchell fired to Rogers for a 19-yard touchdown pass, capping off another quick Stamps drive.
The Stamps headed to halftime with a 29-4 lead on the strength of four scoring drives no longer than five plays each. Mitchell threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns on just eight completions, at a clip of 33 yards per connection.
Up 25 with a half to play, the Stampeders weren’t about to ease up on the gas in the third. A quick stop of Reilly’s offence got Mitchell back on the field, and the Katy, Texas native continued to look very sharp. After a Patrick Watkins 15-yard penalty extended the drive, Mitchell hit Charbonneau-Campeau for a 13-yard pickup to move the sticks.
Then on another second-down play, Mitchell went to the end zone for Rogers in coverage, and the rookie won the one-on-one battle for the catch and touchdown for his second of the game. That made it 36-4 Calgary on Mitchell’s fourth touchdown pass and fifth altogether, as the Esks couldn’t find an answer for the Stamps’ all-out attack.
Needing an immediate response, Reilly came out firing on the next possession, starting with completions to Paris Jackson and Bowman. Another completion to Bowman for 37 yards down to the Calgary 27 was reviewed and upheld, while an illegal contact penalty moved the Eskimos inside the red zone.
Reilly finally gave the Esks their first touchdown soon after, connecting with Jackson in the end zone for the three-yard score to cut the deficit to 36-11.
Not ready to give up on their 2014 Grey Cup hopes, the Eskimos continued their third-quarter surge. A two-and-out on defence got the ball back in the hands of Reilly, who connected with Nate Coehoorn for a 48-yard pickup to the Calgary 16. Bowman finished the drive with his first touchdown of the playoffs, making it 14 unanswered points and only an 18-point deficit.
With the fourth quarter just under way, Reilly was sacked by Shawn Lemon to end the Esks’ drive — and also the night of the Eskimos’ starting quarterback. Reilly couldn’t get back in the game due to a lingering foot injury, leading Nichols into the game early in the fourth.
Nichols went to work with a scramble and then a completion to Jackson on first down, moving Edmonton across midfield. But as soon as two more completions to Jackson moved the Eskimos closer to scoring position, the drive came to a sudden halt when Bowman coughed up the football on a second-down catch. The Stampeders recovered to end the threat, and the Eskimos never moved any closer than that.
Cornish added a late touchdown on the ground for the Stamps, marking his second of the night and extending Calgary’s lead to 43-18. That held up to be the final.
With the win, the Stampeders avenge last year’s loss to the Riders in the Western Final. The Eskimos, meanwhile, end a promising 2014 season on a sour note, overcoming everyone but their hated division rival on the way to the Western Final loss. They’re sure to be back stronger than ever next year, but for now they’ll watch the Stamps try and capture their first Grey Cup since 2008.
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