EDMONTON — It seems the Battle of Alberta even extends to CFL preseason.
Even though Sunday’s clash at Commonwealth Stadium was only an exhibition, ending with the Calgary Stampeders edging the Edmonton Eskimos 23-21, neither side was willing to begin with anything less than their first-team units on the field.
After forcing Henry Burris’s offence to go three and out after the coin toss, the Eskimos got a big boost from their special teams when Skyler Green returned a punt 49 yards to the Stampeders’ 34-yard line.
That left a short porch for Ricky Ray to tee up a 20-yard toss to slotback Jason Barnes, who is making all the right moves to hold onto the starting position he earned last year at the end of his rookie season.
Starters against starters, Eskimos head coach Richie Hall liked what he saw.
“It was a good defensive game going in,” he said. “I was happy that when we got field position we capitalized. Three times we got down in the scoring area, we came away with touchdowns and not field goals.
“Last year, a lot of times it was field goals.”
The winning drive was engineered by Stampeders fourth-stringer Zac Champion, who capped off a seven-play, 59-yard march with a QB keeper on the goal line to lead 22-21.
After the first couple series by each side, the Battle of Alberta switched over to the Battle of the Backups in front of an announced attendance of 33,708.
Ray’s day ended with a 4-for-6, 45-yard performance and the touchdown, while Burris went three-for-four with 27 yards.
“Overall, I felt pretty good out there,” Ray said. “I had a couple (bad) plays, one shovel down right before the touchdown that I didn’t press the edge good enough and made a bad throw to the sideline.”
Stampeders second-string quarterback Drew Tate looked promising in two quarters of action, completing 18 of 29 for 249 yards, but was only able to assist on field goals when it came to scoring.
Calgary kicker Rob Maver hit from 22-yards out to trail 7-3 late in the second quarter before Eskimos second stringer — or is it their second first-stringer? — Jason Maas entered the game with a 25-yard scramble.
He followed up with a pass intended for Efrem Hill that ended up in the hands of Stampeders defensive back Jonnie Dixon, who returned it 82 yards to lead 10-7.
Maas mustered those points right back before halftime with a 12-play, 60-yard drive that included a nine-yard QB sneak, an 11-yard pass to slotback Kevin Challenger and an eight-yard touchdown pass to Ramonce Taylor.
Eskimos third-stringer Jared Zabransky took the 14-10 lead into the third quarter, avoiding pressure in the pocket to pick up eight yards on a scramble plus an unnecessary roughness penalty called on Dixon. He closed out the drive with an eight-yard lob to slotback Brad Smith to put the Eskimos ahead 21-10. He was picked off his next time out by linebacker Greg Trent at Calgary’s 16 yard line.
Zabransky completed five of 11 for 51 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while Maas ended up seven-for-nine for 52 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Two more Maver field goals set up the winning score by Champion.