CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders played what quarterback Henry Burris calls their most complete game of the season the last time the Edmonton Eskimos visited McMahon Stadium.
The Stamps are aiming for a repeat performance of that 32-8 victory on Labour Day when they play the Eskimos in their final home game of the regular season Friday (TSN, 10 p.m. ET).
Calgary, currently tied with Saskatchewan (8-6-1) for first place in the West Division, can clinch a playoff berth with a victory.
The defending Grey Cup champions intend to head out for their last two road games in Vancouver and Regina secure in the knowledge they’ll be playing beyond the end of the regular season on Nov. 7.
The Roughriders, who tied the Stampeders 44-44 in a wild game last Saturday, host the B.C. Lions on Saturday.
Edmonton (7-8-0) once topped the West, but is now fourth. The Esks, coming off a 22-19 win over Toronto, have a better record than Winnipeg and the Argos in the East Division.
That would give them a playoff berth in the crossover. However, the race in the West is so tight, they’re not yet out of the running for first place.
“It’s pretty much a playoff game now the way you look at it,” Burris said. “Teams are jockeying for what we call pole position right now and Edmonton’s trying to put themselves in the best situation possible.”
The Esks fired offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman two days after the Labour Day game and replaced him with Kevin Strasser. Edmonton is 2-4 since the switch, including a 35-34 loss in a rematch with Calgary on Sept. 11.
Quarterback Ricky Ray averaged 296.8 yards a game with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions under Worman. He has averaged 237.5 yards and has seven touchdowns and four interceptions under Strasser.
“The stuff that he’s putting and getting us to do, we’re trying to get guys involved and trying to move guys around a little bit more and that’s tough to do mid-season,” Ray said.
“We’re trying to put new things in each week, a little bit of a different wrinkle and get guys used to it. It’s kind of been a slow process, but I think the change is good for these guys.”
Edmonton’s offence hasn’t been the issue, however, as much as a defence that ranks worst in the CFL in total yards and average yards per game allowed.
“I thought we would have won more than seven football games up to this point,” said Edmonton head coach Richie Hall. “But also at the same time, looking at the West, you knew it was going to be a race from start to finish and it was going to come down to the last week of the season.
“I thought our overall performance would be more consistent that what it is.”
Calgary, 2-1 against Edmonton this season, was dominant in all facets of the game at McMahon on Sept. 7, and hasn’t been able to put together a game like that since then.
“The defence went out there and had a masterpiece game against Ricky Ray and offensively we were able to put up 32 points,” Burris said. “Whether it was through the air or on the ground, we were able to do good things, move the chains and keep Ricky on the sidelines with that offence.
“We’ve got three games remaining in this regular season. If we want to be in first place and have that first-round bye and host the West final here, we’ve got to get back to playing that type of ball right away.”
The Stamps were in this position a year ago. They needed to win their last three games to secure a division semifinal bye. Head coach John Hufnagel says he pulled out his notes from a year ago in addressing the team this week.
“The difference between this year and last year is we got on a winning streak after the Labour Day rematch and played more consistent football,” he said.
“We’ve played good football in the last part of this season, but it hasn’t been as consistent as it was last year. We’re still growing as a football team. We’ve got to take those necessary steps.”
While Calgary’s offence was clicking against Saskatchewan, defences are keying on receiver Jeremaine Copeland and have held him to one touchdown in his last five games. Burris keeps trying to incorporate receivers Romby Bryant and Arjei Franklin.
They came in a trade with Winnipeg earlier this month when Ryan Thelwell (Achilles) was lost for the season following Ken-Yon Rambo’s knee injury.
“There’s been a lot of change on our offence, especially in the passing game where we have new guys,” Burris said. “We’re only running certain kinds of plays and when things like that happen, it cuts off a lot of things you’re used to doing. We’re back to playing our style of ball.”
The most consistent Stampeder this season is running back Joffrey Reynolds, who has compiled seven 100-yard games this season and leads all CFL rushers with a 6.4-yard carry average.
The 29-year-old is two games shy of Calgary’s record for career 100-yard games, held by Earl Lunsford at 26.
“The last couple of games running the football, he looks as good and as young as I’ve ever seen Joffrey run the football,” Hufnagel said.”
Stampeder defensive tackle Jim Davis will start against the team he played for last season and also the team that cut him at the end of the pre-season. He had four tackles and three sacks against his former club on Sept. 11 in Edmonton.
“You’ve got to love it. It’s the first team I played with,” Davis said. “Every time we play, it seems like something is on the line. To go against those guys is special.
“We all know what this game is all about. There’s not going to be any punches that’s held back. We’re going to let it all hang out and it’s going to be good fun. When we line up between those lines, all love is lost.”