Battle of the backfield

Jerome Messam talks to the media following an Edmonton Eskimos' team practice at the Commonwealth...

Jerome Messam talks to the media following an Edmonton Eskimos' team practice at the Commonwealth Stadium fieldhouse, Thursday Oct. 27, 2011. (DAVID BLOOM/QMI Agency)

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

CALGARY - Jerome Messam was named the CFL's Canadian player of the month Tuesday, taking the crown from September winner Jon Cornish.

On Wednesday, the Edmonton Eskimos running back could be crowned West Division most outstanding Canadian.

On Thursday, Messam may end up sweeping this week's prizes and taking his first divisional all-star award.

By Sunday, none of it will matter.

In the West semifinal, there is a strong chance the rushing attacks will be the deciding factor between the Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders.

In this area, the Stampeders do stack up.

If Cornish is shut out during the week, he can make up for it Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium.

And no individual honour will be as satisfying as the team qualifying for the West final next week in Vancouver.

"You play all year to get here," Cornish said. Now that we're here, we have to do the things we need to be successful.

"That's containing other running backs and getting our running backs yards and carries and protecting our quarterback. We have to let him do his work."

While Messam rushed for 1,057 yards this season, he wouldn't have done it facing the Stampeders defence every week.

In three meetings this season, the 26-year-old's best outing was on Labour Day, but he still only had 51 yards on 14 carries. Against the Stamps, Messam had a paltry 3.7-yard average.

The Stampeders have the fourth-ranked rush defence in the CFL, but they finished on a strong note, shutting down Montreal's Brandon Whitaker and Winnipeg's Chris Garrett in consecutive weeks.

"We've held our own," said Stampeders defensive tackle DeVone Claybrooks. "Messam has elusive speed. I've seen him pull away from guys.

"Cornish is more explosive. He can score from anywhere on the field. Messam is a downhill power runner. They have similar qualities but I will take my back any day."

With the weather slated to be in the neighbourhood of zero, Stampeders middle linebacker Robert McCune said the best way to go is fight power with power.

"We need to be physical with Messam," said McCune, who has the nickname of 'The Hammer.'

"Hit him and hit him and hit him. We have fast guys on defence and when see that it's a running play, we're all getting to the ball as quickly as possible."

Cornish doesn't mind chilly weather to a point. The 27-year-old Kansas product said hits only hurt more if you aren't expecting them, and the fifth-year Stampeder tries dishing out the punishment more than he absorbs it.

He also doesn't mind going on the road, as long as he only has to play outdoors just once. Cornish will put it all on the line Sunday in the win-or-go-home outing.

"We won't have the Western final like we did last year," Cornish said about a freezing day at McMahon Stadium. "It was the worst day of my life.

"I haven't had many bad days, so I can call that one the worst. Excluding the loss, it was still the worst day of my life.

"Playing in minus-30 with 70-degree wind chill. Those are the stories you will tell your grandkids.

"It will be a good memory but it's still one of the worst days of my life."

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter @SUNIanBusby


Videos

Photos