Football

Top spot on minds of Stampeders, Eskimos

Knowing what the other two teams in the West have done this Labour Day weekend only serves to ratchet up the pressure at Calgary's sold-out McMahon Stadium on Monday (2 p.m. MT).

Calgary and Edmonton's annual Labour Day clash first of a home-and-home

Knowing what the other two teams in the West have done this Labour Day weekend will only serve to ratchet up the pressure at Calgary's sold-out McMahon Stadium on Monday.

There the Stampeders will host the Edmonton Eskimos in the first of a home-and-home (2 p.m. MT) that could go a long way to sorting things out in the wild west. The teams hook up again Friday at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.

Each club is 5-3, and they trail the Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-2) by four points as the green and white's defence thoroughly throttled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Sunday.

And with the 4-5 B.C. Lions having lost in Montreal, the opportunities are obvious:

Sweep both these games, and you're right there with the Riders for first place. Get swept, and you're battling to stay out of the basement.

"A lot of weight lies on this game," said Calgary quarterback Henry Burris. "The season series is on the line for us. We can't give up any games to them now."

The Stampeders have already given up one game to the Eskimos, having lost 34-31 at Commonwealth Stadium back on July 3.

"We're looking to come out with a little fire," said Stamps linebacker JoJuan Armour. "Our record and their record is motivating enough, the fight for second is motivation enough.

"Both teams are hoping to get to first place."

Both teams, it should be noted, are miles better than they were in 2007. The Eskimos have already matched their win total from a year ago (when they missed the playoffs for the third-straight year and were 5-12-1), and Calgary is just two wins away (7-10-1 in 2007).

Neither is about to ride on those laurels.

Stamps must stop Ray

When they met last time, Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray ripped the Calgary secondary for 448 yards and three touchdowns.

He wasn't playing favourites, by the way, as he comes to the Labour Day weekend (considered the true start of the second half) as the No. 2 pivot in the CFL behind Montreal's Anthony Calvillo.

"Last time, we didn't really get pressure on Ricky Ray," said Mike Labinjo, the Stamps' defensive lineman who took Canadian player of the week honours after Calgary's last game, a win over B.C.

"Any time you give that guy any time, he's able to pick the defence apart. This week, we've put a little more emphasis on getting to Ricky Ray and causing some havoc up front."

The other problem is how well A.J. Harris has been carrying the ball lately, including the 189-yards and 229 total offence effort in the Eskimos' victory over Saskatchewan last time out.

Calgary is well-balanced

For the Eskimos' defence, the problems are magnified because the Stampeders are using as balanced an attack as you'll find in the league right now.

Burris is No. 3 on the quarterback charts. He has the CFL's third-best rusher in Joffrey Reynolds (706 yards) and the top receiver in Ken-Yon Rambo (722 yards).

And if Rambo is covered, there's always Nick Lewis and his 489 yards in receptions, or Brett Ralph (418 yards).

"Henry's doing a great job of spreading the ball around," Rambo said. "I'm just going to keep on trying to do what I can do to help out the team."

So this sets up as a potential Labour Day classic.

"I know we're playing an excellent football team," said Calgary coach John Hufnagel. "It's going to be a great challenge.

"We better be ready."

With files from the Canadian Press