Edmonton Eskimos’ quarterback Mike Reilly, right, runs with the ball under pressure by Calgary Stampeders’ Shaquille Richardson, left, during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Return game, defence the difference in Stampeders’ win over Eskimos

Stampeders 39 Eskimos 18

CALGARY — Roy Finch closed in on franchise history and the Calgary Stampeders got a big assist from their defence in a 39-18 win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Labour Day Monday.

Finch’s third punt return for a touchdown in 2017 tied a Stampeder season record. Calgary’s harassment of Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly for three quarters spotted the Stampeders a 30-point lead.

Calgary (8-1-1) gained some separation atop the CFL’s West Division as the Eskimos dropped into a tie for second with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 7-3.

“This is an integral part of the season when you start stretching out and making our statement we’re the best team in the West,” Finch said.

The Stampeders extended their win streak to six in a row this season and 15 consecutive at home dating back to 2015, while Edmonton lost a third straight game to a division rival.

The rematch is Saturday in Edmonton.

“Definitely gives us, not breathing room, but at least you can take a breath and realize you’re not one loss out of going back to second place,” Stampeder quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said.

“We know it’s going to stay tight.”

League rushing leader Jerome Messam scored touchdowns on runs of four and five yards in front of an announced 33,731 at McMahon Stadium.

Anthony Parker scored on a 24-yard carry in his 100th career game as a Stampeder.

Rene Paredes kicked field goals of 21, 32 and 40 yards plus three converted points. He was wide left on a 42-yard attempt in the first half.

Kenny Stafford and Brandon Zylstra caught touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for Edmonton. Chris Milo, signed Saturday to fill in for injured kicker Sean Whyte, kicked field goals from 22 and 46 yards.

The Stampeders converted a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery from linebacker Shaquille Richardson into two touchdowns and a field goal.

Middle linebacker Alex Singleton had 13 defensive tackles and a quarterback sack, while halfbacks Brandon Smith and Jamar Wall each knocked down a pair of Reilly’s passes.

The performance of Calgary’s secondary for three quarters made life smoother for the offence and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who completed 19 of 27 pass attempts for 277 yards and was intercepted once.

“I thought Bo played really well. The stats don’t always show that, but he played really well,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said. “When your quarterback is your best player ultimately that’s a good thing.

“Defensively we were all over the ball, tackling, harassing Mike so it was a good win for the whole team.”

Reilly was 34-for-52 for 320 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, but was intercepted twice.

He threw touchdown passes of seven and 41 yards to Stafford and Zylstra respectively in the final quarter, but his failed two-point convert pass attempts hindered the visitors’ late-game surge.

The Eskimos had the ball more — 35 minutes to Calgary’s 25 — but did less with it.

“We moved the ball pretty well for good positions for portions of the game, but didn’t get into the end zone until the fourth quarter,” Reilly said.

“You’re going to come out of the gates slow against a team like that, you’re going to lose. We get them again in five days. We’ll try and make sure that doesn’t happen next time.”

The customary pre-game and post-touchdown fireworks weren’t allowed at McMahon because of a fire ban in tinder-dry Calgary.

In support of his flood-ravaged home state, Mitchell ran onto the field flying the Texas flag.

Messam predicted Finch’s return for a TD even before the compact, slippery back rattled off the 90-yard runback in the second quarter.

“I had a feeling Roy was going to do something special today,” Messam said. “If you watch TSN Wired, I called it out.

“I just felt a big play coming. I saw the punter outkick the coverage so if you do that when Roy’s back there, it’s going to be a problem.”

With previous returns of 97 and 103 yards for touchdowns, Finch is tied with William Hampton (1999) for the most in a Stampeders season at three.

Finch ran an 85-yard punt back to score in last year’s Labour Day game.

“He can start and stop on a dime,” Messam said. “He’s got great quick twitch and great acceleration.”

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