Monday's early Labour Day contest in Hamilton had records, lead swings and last-second heartbreak, but the late game in Calgary may have topped it for sheer insanity. A ferocious Battle of Alberta swung back and forth between the hometown Stampeders and the Edmonton Eskimos all day before Kevin Glenn hit Larry Taylor on a seven-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Even that didn't clinch things, though, as Calgary missed the two-point conversion and was only up 31-30, and 38-year-old Edmonton quarterback Kerry Joseph almost pulled off a miraculous final drive. That set up the final round of zaniness, as the Eskimos elected to try a 48-yard field goal into the wind rather than punt for the tie, kicker Grant Shaw hit it well wide left and Taylor made a great play to prevent the ball from going through the end zone for a game-tying rouge, then brought it out before getting tackled to give the Stampeders the win. It was a crazy end to a remarkable day of football, and an appropriate conclusion to a game where both teams showed off brilliance and mistakes in almost equal parts.
There were plenty of high points for both sides Monday, and both teams will have things to build off going forward. The Eskimos entered this week as the CFL's worst overall offence by total yards (311.4 per game) and the worst passing offence (239.5 yards per game), but they finally seemed to pull out of their almost year-long aerial slump. Joseph started the game on fire, completing 11 of his first 12 attempts, and his overall stats weren't bad at all; he finished the contest with 17 completions on 27 attempts (63.0 per cent) for 311 yards and two touchdowns, although he did have one spectacularly bad interception. He also rushed eight times for 30 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, on the opposite sideline, Kevin Glenn also turned in a generally-impressive quarterbacking performance (23 for 30, 76.7 per cent completion rate, 273 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions). Jon Cornish had a solid game as well, collecting 71 yards on 13 carries (5.5 yards per carry) although he did have a fumble, and adding four catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. Those offensive elements largely clicked, and they haven't always done that this season.
However, Monday was full of low points for both teams as well, illustrating the brilliant-but-flawed nature that's held them both to mediocre records thus far this season. The Eskimos' vaunted ground game didn't look great in Jerome Messam's return (he had 32 yards on seven carries, an average of 4.6 yards per carry), and that raises the question of if he was integrated too soon. The interceptions thrown by Glenn and Joseph all came off horrible reads, which didn't exactly scream that these guys shouldn't be doubted as starting quarterbacks. Both defences looked vulnerable at times, too, and there were plenty of curious decisions, from some poor penalties (including a Calgary facemask on a Joseph run) to an apparent mixup that caused Joe Burnett to hesitate before returning Calgary's final kickoff to the decision to go for a long 48-yard field goal into the wind at the end rather than punt for the tie. That last one was particularly debatable, but both approaches have merits; punts tend to fly longer and punt teams can get downfield to cover faster, as the Eskimos' field goal team wasn't able to bring Taylor down in the end zone for the game-tying single, but a field goal gave Edmonton a chance to win in regulation time and its lower angle may have helped on a kick into the wind. The Eskimos weren't necessarily wrong to go for the field goal, but that wasn't definitively the right call either.
There's certainly no shortage of things for these teams to improve upon, as they both displayed issues on offence and defence Monday. That's also reflected in their records, which are now both 5-4 after nine games. However, that speaks to what made Monday's late game so interesting. It wasn't the best display of pure offensive football in the world, but it was unquestionably entertaining throughout and came down to the final moments; that's what made it a real Labour Day classic.
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- Kevin Glenn
- Edmonton Eskimos