Top of CFL’s West Division tightens, Eskimos down Stampeders 15-11

CALGARY — Unlike a year ago, there’s a full-on race for first place in the CFL’s West Division.

The Edmonton Eskimos pulled even with the Calgary Stampeders at 11-4 atop the division with a 15-11 win over their provincial rival Saturday at McMahon Stadium.

Both teams assured a playoff at home with three games remaining in the regular season, it’s now a matter of which Alberta city gets the division final Nov. 22 and which gets the division semifinal Nov. 15.

The Stampeders had first place in the West sewed up by Oct. 18 in 2014. The division winner gets a bye week while the semifinalists wear each other out in the semifinal.

With their second win in a row against Calgary and their first at McMahon since 2011, the Eskimos take the season series against the Stampeders 2-1. That is the tiebreaker should both clubs have the same record at the regular season’s conclusion.

“There have been scenarios in the past where teams clinch pretty early, with almost a month left,” Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly said.

“That’s not the case right now. We know for the next three weeks, if we take care of business on our end then nothing else matters and there’s nothing any other team can do about it. That’s a good situation to be in, but we’ve still got to go and get it done.”

Calgary has games remaining against Toronto, Saskatchewan and B.C., while Edmonton finishes against B.C, Saskatchewan and Montreal.

The Eskimos were winners of five in a row for the first time since 2011 when they opened 5-0. The Stampeders suffered their first loss in eight home games this season.

“It’s a big game, don’t get me wrong,” Edmonton head coach Chris Jones said. “We’ve had so much trouble beating them in years past. It’s good to be able to come to their place where we haven’t had a lot of success in a long time and win the football game.”

Kenny Stafford had a 33-yard touchdown catch for the Eskimos. Sean Whyte kicked two field goals, a convert and a pair of punt singles in the low-scoring affair in front of 32,211.

Eric Rogers caught a 30-yard touchdown pass for Calgary. Running back Jon Cornish added a two-point convert. Rob Maver booted three punt singles and had one negated because of a Stampeder penalty.

Reilly completed 29 of 40 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown pass. Stampeder starter Bo Levi Mitchell was 17-for-32 for 230 yards and a touchdown throw. Both quarterbacks were intercepted twice.

“We know what time it is. We know it’s playoff time starting now,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to go out and win every single game. Hey, we’re still talking first place. They have the edge on us obviously with the series lead.”

Edmonton has held the defending Grey Cup champions to 16 points or less in their three meetings this season. The Eskimos improved to 9-1 when holding opponents to 19 or less. Punt singles by Maver and Whyte were the only points of the second half.

“Our defence stepped up and did an amazing job,” Reilly said.

“It’s generally dominant, but not that dominant against a single team that’s as good as Calgary is. Calgary has had our number for awhile, but the three times we’ve played them our defence has held up their end of the bargain.”

The Stampeders marching into Edmonton territory late in the fourth quarter, Mitchell was intercepted by Cauchy Muamba on a throw intended for Marquay McDaniel with a minute and a half remaining.

Calgary’s offence had the ball for just nine minutes 20 seconds in the first half and mustered just 35 total yards on offence until the final two minutes of the second quarter. Trailing 14-1, the Stampeders sprung to life with nine points in the last two minutes of the first half.

Neither team has managed more than 100 rushing yards in a game against each other this season.

“Hats off to the Stampeders, but we fought the hardest,” Eskimos defensive lineman Odell Willis said. “The team with the most heart, that’s who’s going to come out victorious and today we had the most heart.”

Notes _ Stampeders offensive lineman Dan Federkeil suffered a pulled hamstring in the fourth quarter . . . Calgary’s win streak halted at three games.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press