CFL West Final: Esks' Reilly, Stamps' Cornish in crosshairs

CFL writer Malcolm Kelly breaks down the keys to the playoff matchup between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders and predicts which team will represent the West in the 102nd Grey Cup game.

Edmonton QB, Calgary RB banged up

Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly, left, and Calgary running back Jon Cornish are both battling injuries heading into the CFL West Final. (Getty Images)

The host Calgary Stampeders (15-3) will defeat the Edmonton Eskimos (13-6) in the West final on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Pro sports is a nasty business at times, especially when one club knows another’s star has a specific injury.

What, athletes target the wounded on the other side? Can it be so? 

Heck, yeah. Why do you think hockey talks only in “upper body” and “lower body” injuries?

So on Sunday when the boys come out of the tunnel, the Eskimos will be gunning for running back Jon Cornish and the Stamps for quarterback Mike Reilly. Survival of the fittest, folks.

Cornish first. 

He is the White Stallions’ best player, most important asset and biggest worry after a season battling concussions limited him to nine games (he still came up with 1,082 rushing yards to lead the league). He went out again in Week 17 and has been clearing his head for the playoff.

Cornish gets the ball about once every three plays and on each of them the Eskimos will be hitting him hard. Not, of course (perish the thought), to put him out again, but merely to ensure he knows the fine Eskimos’ defenders are in the game.

The longer the big fella is in there, the less chance for the Eskimos.

Over to Reilly, a future Hall of Fame type if he lasts long enough to amass the numbers. The Edmonton QB can lead, throw, think and, when healthy, run to the point he’s the Green and Gold’s second-best rusher at 616 yards. 

Reilly also has a broken foot (a “rumour”) and that means the Stamps will be rushing the whole stable at him, knowing he likely can’t get out of the pocket and run. If they happen to accidentally, you know, step on that foot, well … 

Stamps have habit of falling short

Much of the talk this week has been about the three victories by the Stamps over the Esks this season (26-22, 28-13, 41-34), and that’s certainly noteworthy, but it’s never been thought here it makes much difference if the teams are fairly close.

Besides, the last time they played was 10 weeks ago.

Some thoughts:

  • Chris Schulz, the former NFL and CFL offensive lineman who is now a TV guy, pointed out that despite Edmonton having five picks against Saskatchewan last week, they still only won by eight points. Good point.
  • However you work your blocking schemes, the Edmonton front seven is going to be a major pain for Calgary QB Bo Mitchell. They had seven sacks vs. the Reginas.
  • John White (852 yards) has been a big part of the Edmonton attack since coming back from injury. If he’s rolling, it takes pressure off Reilly.
  • Edmonton’s defence is better than Calgary’s statistically, but not in points allowed. Only points allowed matters.
  • This will be Bo Mitchell’s first start in a playoff game, but he’s shown in the backup role the last couple of years he can handle the pressure. And he’s expected to have receiver Maurice Price ready to go.

Honesty being the best approach, if Reilly had a pair of healthy pins Edmonton would be the pick. Without that, it has to be the White Stallions.

How this can go horribly wrong: Kendial Lawrence explodes. Last week, his 84-yard punt return major put a dagger into the Riders’ hearts.

He had a 9.1 average per punt return and 29 per kickoff carry. Bad special teams by the Stamps at the wrong time can kill their chances.

Then there’s the Calgary nightmare. This is now seven-straight winning seasons for coach John Hufnagel, and 15 wins in 2014 is the best in a long string of excellent showings.

His club is 88-37-1 in the regular season but has won just one Grey Cup (2008). They usually find ways to mess this thing up; last year it was turnovers. 

That can’t happen again, can it?


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