CALGARY — The battle for provincial bragging rights is on the line Monday as the Edmonton Elks travel to Calgary to take on the Stampeders to cap off Mark’s Labour Day Weekend.
After coming up with the short end of the stick against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a nail-biting game that saw the necessity of a last-minute field goal to close the door for Winnipeg, Calgary is looking to rebound.
The transition from the veteran presence of Bo Levi Mitchell to rookie sensation Jake Maier has been somewhat seamless. In the two games played since the 24-year old UC-Davis product took over, the Stamps have not lost much ground in the West Division.
In the process, Maier dazzled in his season debut against Montreal as he threw for over 300 yards. He followed that up with an encore performance, going to the wire against the Bombers and completed 17 consecutive completions.
The decision of who will be under centre for the Stamps this week will be a little more difficult than it has been in recent weeks. As Mitchell has progressed through his recovery, improving from a limited participant in practice to a full one, he believes he is good enough to go Monday but remains cautious.
“I hope,” said Mitchell on the possibility of playing against Edmonton. “It’s completely up to how it (his leg) reacts, right? Being off, I have to make sure that it doesn’t react poorly because I don’t want to go out and put our team in the same situation I did at the beginning of the season.”
With the possibility of Mitchell reclaiming the starting role, Maier’s mindset is to be prepared for anything ahead of Monday.
“I was always preparing to make sure that when I step foot on the field I was going to be ready to go and put my best foot forward,” said Maier. “Nothing really changes for me and even when Bo comes back, nothing will really change for me.”
Whoever he decides to start this week, Dave Dickenson’s priority will be to protect his quarterback against Edmonton. Through four weeks, the tenacious Edmonton defensive line has been a problem for offences. Counting four separate linemen who have accumulated a sack or more and ranking third in the CFL in sacks as a team, fending off the multiple talents that Edmonton has will be a team effort.
“We do always talk about how we’re playing good D-lines, good D-lines, that’s what the Canadian Football League is all about,” said Dickenson. “If you can pressure the quarterback, you’re going to have a good chance to win… we need our offensive line to grow together. We’re working on that, might have another piece or two that’s new. We know we’re up against a big challenge.”
Another Edmonton weapon that Calgary is cognizant of is James Wilder Jr.
Sitting 45 yards back of Montreal’s William Stanback for the league-lead, Wilder has re-established himself as one of the premier offensive threats in the CFL. Accumulating over 300 rushing yards on the season and a league-high 11 rushes beyond 10 yards or more, Wilder’s abilities are on Dickenson’s mind.
“Another challenge. Try to get the ball out, try to tackle as a group of 12 and try to not let him get started,” said Dickenson.
In his eyes, Wilder is expecting the Calgary defence to pay special attention to him on Monday.
“I’m expecting them to play us a little different from what we watched on film,” said Wilder. “But they fly around the ball, they get to the ball, they rally around the quarterback, try to get to the quarterback and they have some big studs upfront.”
To combat that, he was adamant about how they can’t afford to not play their game.
“We have to be on point this week which we plan to do,” said Wilder.
Mentioning challenges, Elks’ head coach Jaime Elizondo is facing the same one as Dickenson: who will the Stamps start under centre?
“Don’t know the health of both those guys,” said Elizondo. “Obviously, we got to be prepared defensively for both of them. They both pose different types of problems.”
Jake Ceresna spoke for the defensive line and issued the same thoughts as his coach when it came to uncertainty with who he will be hunting down Monday.
“For us upfront, it doesn’t really make a difference,” said Ceresna. “I think they play pretty similar. That Calgary offence has similar philosophies when both guys are in. We have experience playing with Bo in the past, so we know what he’s about, we know how he likes to play, he’s a great player. Obviously, the backup [Jake Maier], has been playing phenomenally too.”
Having given up a league-best 607 net opposition offensive yards on top of only three touchdowns scored against them, the Edmonton D has proven to be a pain for offences to gain any ground against. Through three games, the Green and Gold have allowed the fewest first downs (40) and the fewest passing first downs (19).
You can catch the finale to the Mark’s Labour Day Weekend on Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET on TSN and ESPNews or follow along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.