CALGARY — Labour Day’s Battle of Alberta lacked touchdown celebrations, but not sack celebrations.
The Calgary Stampeder defence made life difficult for Edmonton Eskimos rookie quarterback James Franklin in Monday’s 16-7 win over the Esks at McMahon Stadium.
Led by Charleston Hughes, Calgary’s defensive line put Franklin on the ground four times. They marked those moments with log rolls on the turf followed by air kicks.
“Charleston is the king of all the sack celebrations,” said Calgary linebacker Deron Mayo, who had one sack and forced a Franklin fumble.
Hughes, who had sat out the previous game with back spasms, contributed a pair of sacks and five tackles. The defensive line’s resident choreographer insisted his post-sack routines were unscripted.
“I have no clue what it means,” Hughes said. “It’s just something I made up on the fly with my d-line.”
At 8-2, the Stampeders gained breathing room on the Eskimos atop the CFL’s West Division. The Esks dropped to 6-4 in second place, but get a rematch Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
All signs point to quarterback Mike Reilly starting Saturday. His team trailing by nine points, the veteran pivot went into Monday’s game in the fourth quarter for his first action since tearing knee ligaments in the season-opener in Fort McMurray.
Reilly was 5-for-12 in passing for 90 yards in relief of Franklin.
“I would like to have come back under different circumstances in terms of us getting a win, so I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to do enough to get the victory here,” Reilly said.
“Luckily, we get another chance at them here in just a couple days.”
Calgary’s Greg Wilson scored the lone touchdown of the game on a 10-yard catch from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell late in the first half. Rene Paredes kicked a trio of field goals with his third from 45 yards out late in the fourth quarter.
Edmonton kicker Sean Whyte had two field goals and a punt single.
Mitchell was 24-for-36 in passing for 251 yards and one touchdown throw. He was intercepted once. At 23-4, Mitchell surpassed Canadian Football Hall of Famer Jackie Parker for the best career record after 27 starts in the CFL.
Franklin was the fifth different starting quarterback for Edmonton in as many Labour Day games following Ricky Ray, Kerry Joseph, Reilly and Matt Nichols.
After a solid CFL debut last week to lead the Esks to victory over the Toronto Argonauts, the 24-year-old completed 13 of 28 passes for 105 yards.
“Consistently, I wasn’t doing a good job of making good decisions out there,” Franklin said.
“They did a good job of taking away the things we had success with. They did a good job of reading my eyes and making me stay in the pocket or at least get out of the pocket. Again, didn’t make good decisions with the ball today.”
The Stampeders extended their win streak against the Eskimos to 12 in a row, including four straight Labour Day victories.
Their traditional meeting on the holiday Monday in September was the first meeting of the provincial rivals since Calgary downed Edmonton 43-18 in last year’s West Division final.
Monday afternoon’s clash in front of an announced sellout of 35,400 was played in sunny, windy conditions until rain arrived in the third quarter.
Calgary held the visitors to just five rushing yards in the first half, but the Stampeders lost No. 1 punt returner Tim Brown in the second quarter to a knee injury. Defensive cornerback Joe Burnett was pressed into return duties for the remainder of the game.
September’s home-and-home sweep of Edmonton in 2014 was a pivotal swing in a championship season for Calgary as they went 6-2 in the second half after it. The Stampeders posted a league-best 15-3 record and defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to win the Grey Cup.
“We went into this week saying these are two important games that we need to set a standard for ourselves and put some distance in between us and the rest of the teams in the league,” Hughes said.
“We sent the message today we’re a strong team and we stick together and we’re going to battle no matter what.”