Eskimos embrace underdog status heading into West semifinal

If there’s any pressure on the Eskimos heading into the West Division semifinal against Calgary at McMahon Stadium Sunday, Edmonton head coach Richie Hall doesn’t appear affected by it.

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EDMONTON — If there’s any pressure on the Eskimos heading into the West Division semifinal against Calgary at McMahon Stadium Sunday, Edmonton head coach Richie Hall doesn’t appear affected by it.

Decided underdogs after being beaten in three of four regular season meetings by the Stampeders, including lopsided 32-8 and 30-7 losses in Calgary, Hall and the Eskimos are well aware the numbers suggest they don’t stack up well on paper.

That said, the 9-9 Eskimos are quietly confident it’ll be a different story against the 10-7-1 Stampeders between the chalk lines on hostile turf in Calgary, with a date against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on the line.

“When you line up, the score is 0-0 regardless of what happened during the course of the regular season,” Hall said.

“They’re playing at home. They don’t have to travel. They have the crowd. They have this. They have that. There’s an expectation you’re going to play and perform well in front of your home crowd.”

The Eskimos earned their ticket to the semifinal (TSN, 4:30 p.m. ET) with two lopsided wins to end the season, including a playoff-clinching 45-13 victory over the B.C. Lions in Vancouver. The Stampeders, meanwhile, are coming off a 30-14 loss to the Roughriders.

“We don’t mind being the underdogs,” said rookie running back Arkee Whitlock. “They won three games out of four.”

“We’re looking at it from a totally different perspective. This is a new season and everybody’s record is 0-0. It’s a new start. What they did during the regular season has nothing to do with right now. It’s win or go home.”

Head-to-head with the Eskimos, the Stampeders were the better team on both sides of the ball during the regular season.

Henry Burris lit up Edmonton’s defence for 1,503 passing yards and eight touchdowns in four games. His favourite target was Jeremaine Copeland, who had 22 catches, 407 yards and five touchdowns. Then, there’s running back Joffre Reynolds, the CFL’s leading rusher with 1,504 yards.

“It really doesn’t matter because we’re here,” receiver Fred Stamps said of the regular season series.

“We’re going to go into Calgary and play a good football game. I’m pretty sure they want to play a good football game. It’s see you on Sunday and we’ll see how everything unfolds.”

While Ricky Ray had his moments against the Stampeders, he didn’t have the numbers Burris did in the season series. Ray went 98-for-145 for 1,040 yards and six TDs through the air.

Along the ground, Whitlock, third among CFL rushers with 1,293 yards, is coming off a 165-yard outing against B.C., a game in which Edmonton’s offensive line was dominant.

“We had two good wins the last two weeks,” Whitlock said. “We’re a good team. We just have to put everything together.”

“I think there’s more of the Eskimos to be seen. We’re coming together a little better these past few weeks. Not too many people gave us a chance to be in the playoffs, to win the Grey Cup.”

In the end, insists Hall, that chance is all the Eskimos want.

“It’s a challenge, regarding handling adversity,” Hall said. “We’re going into an adverse situation.

“They’re returning Grey Cup champions. They’re playing at home. They beat us twice at home. It’s overcoming those challenges that are factual and are in front of us. When you look at us, our football team has answered the call to adversity. This is just another adverse situation.”

Stamps, the CFL’s leading pass catcher with 1,402 yards on 85 receptions, missed two workouts this week battling the flu but returned to practice Thursday, and is expected to be ready for Sunday.

In four games against Calgary this season, Stamps had 19 catches for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

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