Top spot served up to victor

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Today is a time for giving thanks, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders can both offer thanks to the same team.

Because of the Edmonton Eskimos' 27-20 victory Friday night over the B.C. Lions, the winner of the Thanksgiving showdown (2:30 p.m., TSN) will be in sole possession of first place in the CFL's West Division.

The loser will drop into a tie for last spot but eye a possible crossover playoff berth.

"This is the most important game of the season, and there is tons of intensity surrounding it," said Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris.

"It's two teams in first place with only a couple days left in the season. This may be the biggest game in the league so far this year.

"We love that. We fought hard all year to get into this position. We have had success against them, and they've had success against us.

"Pretty much the best team will win. This is a battle for all the marbles, and the team that truly wants it will do the job and do it right. They will also get rewarded for it."

The Stamps, the Riders, the Lions and the Eskimos each have nine wins, so unless the Stamps and Riders tie today, someone will have the advantage with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

The winner also gets the important tiebreaker for playoff positioning, and the West is a jumbled mess at this point.

The Stamps hold the tie-breaker with the Lions but have lost it to the Eskimos, while the Lions have the edge on the Riders. The other tiebreakers have yet to be finalized.

Hardly anything separates the Riders and Stamps. The Riders won the first meeting by one point, then the Stamps came back to win the back end by five.

The Riders then eked out a 37-34 victory last week, when two crucial turnovers were the difference in the loss

Stamps receiver Jeremaine Copeland said it's easy to pick out where the offence went wrong 10 days ago, and the unit is ready to pick up the slack.

"Everybody is focused on that, and we all see what is waiting for us," Copeland said. "The guys are focused and ready to play out this long last stretch.

"We want to let everyone know we're ready to do what it takes to host that (playoff) game. We aren't looking to the playoffs because we know we need this one."

The storyline for the Riders is the same as it is all season long. Running back Wes Cates won't be returning from his lower leg injury, and they've also lost centre Jeremy O'Day to a torn ACL and Mike Abou-Mechrek as well, so there will be some shuffling along the offensive line.

Calgarian Chris Best makes his first start at right guard for the Riders, while veteran Marc Parenteau starts at left guard and Gene Makowsky slides to centre.

"We still expect to come out and win the game," said Riders quarterback Michael Bishop. "We're going to try and mix it up, keep them guessing the way we did last week."

Just how important is this game? Stampeders right tackle Jeff Pilon will return to the lineup after missing three of the past four starts with a shoulder injury.

Even in the game he didn't finish -- a blowout win over Toronto Argonauts -- Pilon played a bit.

So with four games left, Pilon is fighting through the pain much the way centre Rob Lazeo is battling through a damaged left thumb.

"It's a big game," said Pilon, who preferred to downplay the intensity angle.

"This is just me thinking, but I don't treat it as anything else. If you say to yourself this one is too big, your mind isn't in the right place.

"I'm going to come out and play the best I can, play mistake free and hope it falls in our favour."


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