Classic finish: Calgary Stampeders close out Edmonton Eskimos in last second win

CALGARY — Rene Paredes kicked five field goals, including a 43-yarder with no time remaining, to boot the Calgary Stampeders to a thrilling 23-20 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos in the Labour Day Classic.

Bo Levi Mitchell returned from a second-half knee injury, connecting with Richard Sindani as part of a late scoring drive to set up the eventual game-winning kick. Paredes connected on five of six attempts in the game, while Mitchell’s first-half pass to DaVaris Daniels was Calgary’s only touchdown.

Mitchell finished with 255 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-30 passing, while Eskimos pivot Mike Reilly had 250 yards, a touchdown and an interception in addition to 40 yards on the ground.

For the Stamps it was their seventh straight win on Labour Day, moving them to 9-1 on the season in front of 32,013 at McMahon Stadium. The Eskimos drop their second in a row to fall to 6-5, but will get another chance to top their hated rival in the rematch on Sept. 8.

Don Jackson rushed for a game-high 115 yards on 17 carries, while Daniels paced Calgary with 116 receiving yards and a score. Duke Williams tied for a game-high 116 yards and a touchdown to lead the Eskimos.

Calgary receiver Kamar Jorden and Eskimos pass-catcher Derel Walker both left the game in the first half with injuries and did not return. Jorden and Walker are two of the league’s three leading receivers.

Both offences moved the ball out of the gate, with Paredes and Sean Whyte exchanging field goals to in a 3-3 game. But while the Eskimos’ early red zone trip resulted in just three, the Stamps took advantage.

Two first-down pickups by Jorden, including a highlight-reel, finger-tip grab on second down, got the Stamps in the red zone. Then, after faking the screen to Jackson, Mitchell hit Daniels underneath and the Notre Dame alum did the rest, running by would-be tacklers on the way to a 19-yard score.

Down 10-3 on the road and needing a response, it was the Eskimos’ defence coming up with what would turn out to be a game-changing play. Jackson was hit hard at the line of scrimmage by SAM linebackerChris Edwards, putting the ball on the turf for  Nick Usher to return it to the Calgary 10.

C.J. Gable got the ball on back-to-back plays, the second resulting in a two-yard touchdown, his third of the season, to pull the Eskimos even with 10:56 to go in the second quarter.

A 43-yard run by Jackson put the Stamps back in the red zone, but the running back dropped a swing pass on what looked like a sure touchdown on second down, leading to a 19-yard chip shot for Paredes to put Calgary back in front, 13-10.

Aside from both teams sustaining drives and looking to chew up as much clock as possible, the tale of the first half became injuries when Jorden and Walker — two of the CFL’s three leading receivers — both limped off the field in the second quarter.

That put the emphasis on Daniels and league-leading receiver Williams, with the latter carrying the weight of the Eskimos’ offence towards the end of the first half. With the seconds melting away in the opening half and the Stamps in the driver’s seat, Reilly tossed a long ball for his top receiver in double coverage and Williams came through, beating Ciante Evans for a 45-yard touchdown.

Williams’ eighth touchdown of the season and third in as many games gave the Eskimos a 17-13 lead through the break.

The third quarter opened with a couple of rare misses from Paredes and Whyte, with the Stamps picking up a single point on the exchange.

Moments later, after already losing Jorden to injury, the Stamps’ situation got worse when Mitchell appeared to sustain a knee injury while dropping back to throw. He limped off from the non-contact injury and was replaced by Arbuckle for the ensuing drive.

The Stamps’ defence immediately rose to the occasion, when on the very next drive Reilly’s pass slipped through Nate Behar’s fingers and into the hands of Ciante Evans. The defensive back returned the interception 13 yards to the Edmonton 48, setting up Arbuckle and the offence on the visitors’ side of the field.

After a first-down run by Jackson and a second-down conversion to Brescacin, the offence stalled, but not before Paredes’ 21-yard field goal knotted the game at 17 points apiece.

A fumble by Duke Williams on the very next drive put the ball back in the hands of the Stamps, and much to the relief of Stamps fans, the starting quarterback Mitchell was back under centre sporting a brace on his left knee.

The Eskimos continued to struggle with ball security when Gable coughed up the football, turning the ball back over to Calgary. But while the Stamps turned that into three points, the Eskimos responded with a Whyte field goal of their own with 4:59 remaining to tie the game at 20-20.

The Esks had a chance to pull off the upset late in the game with the ball in their hands near midfield. But the Stampeder defence rose to the occasion, getting the stop and putting the ball back in the hands of Mitchell and co.

An illegal contact penalty extended the drive, and from there, Mitchell worked his magic, completing passes to Sindani and Daniels down to the Edmonton 40. Consecutive runs by Terry Williams set up Paredes’ fifth field goal of the afternoon, clinching a 23-20 win.

The Stampeders pulled out the victory despite losing the turnover battle, giving the football away four times throughout the game, three of those coming on fumbles. The Stamps took the ball away three times themselves, winning the time of possession battle by an edge of 32:18 to 27:42.

Gable’s fumble was one of the Eskimos’ giveaways, but the veteran running back also had a combined 93 yards and a touchdown.

Walker didn’t record a catch for the Eskimos before exiting with an injury while Jorden was held to three catches for 49 yards before leaving.

Alex Bazzie had two sacks for the Eskimos, who edged the Stamps with four in total in the afternoon.

The two teams will do it again at Commonwealth Stadium in the Labour Day rematch on Sept. 8.

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