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Eskimos focus on stopping Stampeders’ Cornish, Lewis

According to Edmonton Eskimos linebacker T.J. Hill, the main weapons in Calgary’s arsenal don’t have names — just numbers. Nine and 82.

EDMONTON — According to Edmonton Eskimos linebacker T.J. Hill, the main weapons in Calgary’s arsenal don’t have names — just numbers.

Nine and 82. Nine and 82.

Stop them, he says and the CFL’s second-stingiest defence wins Sunday’s West Division semifinal and goes on to face the B.C. Lions in the division final.

No. 9 is running back Jon Cornish and No. 82 is receiver Nik Lewis. Together, the pair will try to shred an Edmonton defence that allowed just 22.3 points a game this year, second best in the CFL.

Only the Lions, at 21.4 points allowed per game, were better.

“They go as No. 9 and 82 go,” said Hill on Saturday after the Eskimos finished their final walkthrough practice prior to Sunday’s game. “There ain’t too much we can do about Nine, because they can hand him the ball.

“But just like with Nine, with 82 we’ve got to wrap up. We’ve got to gang tackle him.”

Cornish has become the face of a surging Stampeders team that finished in a tie with Edmonton at 11-7 but lost the season series and ended up as the West Division’s third seed.

Since taking over from Joffrey Reynolds two months ago, the 27-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., has been a devastating package of speed and power.

The six-foot, 205-pound back has 863 yards on 119 carries for a 7.3 yard average and nine touchdowns.

He’s drawn comparisons to breakout Edmonton tailback Jerome Messam. The Brampton, Ont., native came to the Eskimos in a pre-season trade and sparked their offence with 1,057 yards on 195 carries and six touchdowns.

“Jerome’s going to hate me for this, but I think he (Cornish) is a faster Jerome Messam,” said Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed.

“The kid has really changed the way you view their offence because he’s such a powerful runner. He’s fast. He can get the edge. He can run between the tackles and his hands are pretty darn good.

“He’s going to be a big focus for us this weekend. We can’t let him get started.”

Cornish said his game plan is simple: take what the Eskimos defence gives him.

“If they let me run outside, I’ll go outside. If they let me run inside, I’ll go inside, however it works out,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to (the game). I look forward to every game despite any team’s defence, how good they are. Every game is a challenge.”

Edmonton linebacker Rod Davis said the focus on practice has been all 12 defenders flying to the football to make the tackle.

“The No.1 key is stopping Cornish,” said Davis.

“The thing about Cornish is the first guy never tackles him. The first guy never tackles Nik Lewis. So we’ve got to be able to bring him down on first contact and limit the yards after first contact.”

Stopping Lewis before and after the catch has been the struggle for defences all year.

The 29-year-old Texan ran up 1,209 yards on 93 catches for five touchdowns. More importantly, over half his receiving yards came in yards after the catch.

Eskimo defensive back Rod Williams said Calgary’s pass offence is designed to give Lewis space to work.

“They’re doing the same thing they’ve been doing. They try to work Nik inside and out. They start with him and they finish with him,” said Williams, who led the Esks with six interceptions in 2011.

“They’re doing a lot of motion, a lot of misdirection, but it will be OK, because we’ve got a game plan for it.”