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August 2, 2019

Battle of Alberta Always Special Whenever ‘It’s Played

Christmas comes early for Alberta football fans this weekend.

The Eskimos visit the Calgary Stampeders at 5 p.m. Saturday at McMahon Stadium for the season’s first instalment of the Battle of Alberta.

“Normally, it’s Labour Day, but we’re happy to start it now,” said Eskimos centre David Beard. “We love the Battle of Alberta. It’s a long-time tradition and all kinds of competitive play, and ‘we’re excited to get in there. We ‘can’t wait to start.””

As if there wasn’t enough already to stoke the competitive fires of the provincial rivals, a share of first place in the West Division with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-2) is also at stake. The Bombers were upset 28-27 by the previously winless Toronto Argonauts on Thursday.

Both the Eskimos and Stampeders have 4-2 records and are tied for second place in the West. Edmonton blanked the Argos last week for their first shutout since 2014 while Calgary barely squeaked past the Ottawa RedBlacks on the road without scoring a touchdown.

“Obviously, any time you play them, it’s welcomed,” said Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas. We’re excited to play them every time we do strap it up. They’ve been the top of the league for the last 10 years organization-wise, won a ton of games and they’ve won three Grey Cups (2018, ’14 and ’08). It’s one of those games where you measure yourself against the best, and it’s always good to play them.

“I think they’re coached well, they have great players and personnel, they’ve been together for a while, they play with confidence all the time, they hustle as good as any team in our league, so they make the breaks that they get for themselves,” Maas continued. “At the end of the day, when you win at home, you have confidence at home, and ‘that’s what they’ve done over the last number of years. They’re a great team, a great organization and it’s quite the feat to defeat them at their place.”

The Stampeders have the most home wins (55) in the CFL since the start of the 2012 season but have won only five of the last nine games with the Eskimos. Edmonton’s last win in Calgary was in October 2015.

Beard was surprised to hear quarterback Trevor Harris, who is new to the Eskimos this season, talk about the Battle of Alberta earlier this week.

“Any time you get in a Battle of Alberta, it’s a big deal,” said Harris, who is 0-6-2 against the Stampeders in his career (Calgary is the only CFL team he has never defeated). “When I was in Ottawa, you knew about the Battle of Alberta. It’s a good rivalry. I just want to be a part of it.”

International wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and national receiver Anthony Parker, both former Stampeders, were looking forward to experiencing the Battle of Alberta from the other side this season.

Unfortunately, Parker, who said one of the major reasons he signed with the Eskimos was to play again in the intense home-and-home Labour Day week series, suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in training camp and is sidelined for the season.

Saturday’s game will also be special for Daniels, 26, who was looking forward to just playing, first of all. He missed the first game of the season because of a concussion in the second exhibition contest and then sat out each of the next two games as the Eskimos juggled the lineup to get the right ratio of American and national players on the field.

Daniels had 10 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in the two games he’s played.

“Just to get in a rhythm and move around and see what I can do,” he said earlier this week about his goals for Saturday’s game. “I’m just getting started in this offence, and I’m excited for everything that’s going to come. My comfort level is getting better as everything is falling into place.

‘I’ve just got to get healthy and stay on the field.”

Fellow American receiver Greg Ellingson, who leads the Eskimos with 54 catches for 457 yards, will be scratched and placed on the one-game injured list.

The Eskimos try to prepare for each game as if their opponent was “faceless” and “nameless,” but Daniels said it will be difficult for him to pretend the Stampeders were just another team.

“I know it’s a game that everybody looks forward to,” he said. “The fans will be rowdy. The game will be pretty rowdy itself. There’s a lot to be excited for. I’m just hoping we come out with a win.

‘It’s a big-time game, and those are the type of games I usually get excited for.”

Did you know?

Saturday’s game will mark the first Calgary-Edmonton contest since Nov. 2, 2012, without one or both of Bo Levi Mitchell or Mike Reilly as the starting quarterbacks. The starters that day were Drew Tate and Matt Nichols.

Harris and Calgary’s Nick Arbuckle, who has started each of Calgary’s last four games since Mitchell was injured, will be the QBs on Saturday.

“I probably thought about Calgary the most in the off-season, but that’s just because it took me a while to get over the Grey Cup,” said Harris, who was Ottawa’s quarterback in the CFL’s championship game at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium last November. “It took me a while to watch it, and I’d wake up having dreams about the game and stuff like that.”

He finally watched the Grey Cup game in mid-January and put it behind him.

“I’m just embedded in the Edmonton Eskimos culture, and I’m just glad to be here and be a part of this,” Harris said. “We’re just going to focus on ourselves and focus on the process we’ve focussed on all year and just continue to strive to take another step toward being the team we want to be.”

Short yardage

  • Harris, whose three-game streak of passing for fewer than 300 yards is his longest since August 2017, leads the CFL with an average of 321.8 passing yards.
  • Saturday’s game will mark the 229th time the Eskimos and Stampeders have played each other during the regular season since Edmonton re-entered the Western League (WIFU until 1957).
  • Kevin Elliott, a 30-year-old five-year CFL veteran who played the final game of the 2018 regular season with the Esks, will make his 2019 debut in place of Ellingson. Running back C.J. Gable returns to the lineup after sitting out the last game while 2019 draft pick Peter Cender comes off the six-game injured list to replace Chris Mulumba-Tshimanga on special teams.
  • Defensive end Alex Bazzie, who was a healthy scratch last week and hasn’t played a single game this season, is listed as the backup middle linebacker with rookie Jonathan Walton being placed on the one-game injured list after making four special teams tackles last week against Toronto.
  • While the Eskimos averaged 15 penalties during the first four games, they’ve reduced their number of infractions in the last two games to an average of nine per game. “We just had our first penalty-free practice of the year, so guys get it, and they’re working towards it,” Maas said earlier this week. “We’re heading in the right direction. We want to be the best in the league at (not) taking penalties.”