Saturday, June 11, 2016

TURNOVERS SINK STAMPS AS ESKIMOS CLAIM PRE-SEASON VICTORY

Jordan Lynch threw a touchdown pass and rushed for another while the Stampeders turned the ball over six times, as the Eskimos claimed a rare pre-season rendition of the Battle of Alberta 23-13.
Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell each got the start on Saturday night in front of 28,367 at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium and looked solid in limited action. In the end, the Eskimos got the best of a turnover-marred game to start their season under new head coach Jason Maas on the right foot.
Maas made his debut along with Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson, and neither coach will say he had a memorable first game. The Stamps struggled throughout the night with turnovers, while the Eskimos also surrendered a fourth-quarter touchdown on a fumble returned for a six.
Lynch scored a game-high two touchdowns, including on a pass to Bryant Mitchell, while James Franklin also threw a touchdown pass in limited action to lead the Esks’ offence.
Reilly threw for 54 yards on 5-of-8 passing and set up a Sean Whyte field goal on his two possessions before handing the keys to the offence to Franklin. Brandon Zylstra led the Eskimos with 66 yards on four catches and Bryant Mitchell added 38 yards on six catches to go with the touchdown.
Bo Levi Mitchell’s stay in the game was even shorter, but he completed five of six passes for for 56 yards and looked sharp on his lone drive of the game.
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Looking to get their new-look offence in sync early, the Eskimos started the game with Reilly on the field and he got in a rhythm early, completing three of his first five passes for 29 yards to set up a 50-yard field goal by Whyte.
But down 3-0, Mitchell answered the bell. A short pass to Joe West and a 26-yard run along the right sideline moved the Stampeders into Esks’ territory at the 39. Another catch by West, his second of the game, and a broken tackle put the Stamps’ offence inside the 20.
With the chip shot by kicker Rene Paredes, the Stamps knotted the game at three apiece while Mitchell headed to the bench with five completions on six attempts.
On Reilly’s second and final drive of the game the Esks moved into scoring position thanks to Nate Coehoorn’s third catch of the first quarter, but on his second field goal try of the game Whyte misfired from the right hashmark after last year going 24-of-26 in his half-season stint with the Eskimos.
Drew Tate and James Franklin were next off the bench for the Stampeders and Eskimos respectively, and for the Stamps it was a different quarterback but same result. West continued to be the most popular target in the Stamps’ offence, and his fifth catch of the game put him at 80 yards in total and helped set up Paredes’ second field goal of the game to make it 6-3 Calgary.
Franklin and Thomas DeMarco each exchanged possessions at quarterback for the Eskimos, but with the Esks down 6-3 late in the second quarter it was Franklin who got the ball rolling. After a first down pickup by Sakir Bell, Franklin threw to Bell for an 11-yard pickup that was followed up with an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Stampeders.
Already knocking on the door, Franklin then found rookie receiver Anthony Barrett for a 36-year touchdown, giving the Eskimos their first lead since early in the first quarter, 9-6.
That lead stood up at the half, then in the second half the Stamps found themselves in turnover trouble. Bryant Moniz, fighting with Andrew Buckley to be the team’s third-string quarterback, was intercepted by Eskimos defensive halfback Cord Parks.
The always-elusive Lynch came into the game and hit the ground running with a 15-yard gain, then also showed he’s got an arm, finding Zylstra for a 15-yard gain and Natey Adjei for 10 more to keep the sticks moving.
Then Lynch, who scored the game-winning touchdown in the 103rd Grey Cup Championship last season, did what he does best, finishing the drive with a 10-yard run followed by a one-yard plunge over the goal line.
The play was reviewed but upheld, extending the Eskimos’ lead to 16-6.
The Eskimos kept the momentum in their corner after that when Darryl McBride Jr. forced the fourth turnover of the game against the Stampeders, another interception off Moniz.
After an 11-yard completion to Mitchell, Lynch connected with a completion to Darryl Surgent before going back to Mitchell for his second touchdown of the game to give the Eskimos a commanding 23-6 lead.
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Turnovers plagued the Stampeders all night but it wasn’t done yet. This time it was Stamps running back Lache Seastrunk fumbling the football, turning it over to the Eskimos for the fifth time this game.
The Esks turned the offence back over to DeMarco and went two-and-out, but the turnover ended a threatening Stamps drive that came to a sudden end inside the Eskimos’ 20.
Ciante Evans added a late touchdown for a Stampeders off a fumble recovery, cutting the deficit to 23-13 on the scoop and score.
The Eskimos had one more turnover in their back pockets, a turnover on downs, their sixth turnover of the game on a 15-yard loss for the sack.
Whyte missed three field goals and an extra point for the Eskimos but outside of that, a solid effort helped the Eskimos with a 23-13 victory over their bitter rival in a rematch of the Western Final.
The Stampeders close out pre-season on June 17 in Vancouver against the Lions, while the Eskimos cap it all off with a home date against the Riders on June 18. Both teams open their season on Saturday, June 25, as the Esks host the REDBLACKS in a Grey Cup rematch and the Stamps head right back to B.C. for a meeting with the Lions.

HEATH, KILGORE HELP ARGOS WIN PRE-SEASON OPENER

T.J. Heath had two interceptions and Logan Kilgore threw a touchdown pass to Vidal Hazelton, leading the Argos to a 25-16 win over the rival Ticats in their pre-season opener at BMO Field. 16,168
The 16,168 announced fans in attendance couldn’t have asked for better weather for the team’s first game at BMO, as Double Blue supporters tailgated outside before enjoying an efficient showing from Kilgore and a second-half comeback win over a hated rival.
Kilgore threw for 107 yards on 8-of-13 passing for a touchdown and no interceptions, helping his bid for the backup quarterback position, while Mitchell Gale’s perfect 6-for-6 drive in the fourth quarter capped off by a Wallace Miles touchdown grab put the game away with 2:50 remaining.
Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli was efficient but failed to get the Ticats on the board in his two first-quarter possessions, and on the other hand Jeff Mathews showed some good and some bad in throwing for 176 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-14 passing but also throwing two interceptions.
Brett Maher was a perfect 2-for-2 on field goals for the Ticats while Cody Mandell was 1-for-2 but hit a 50-yarder.
Ricky Ray played entered for the Argos in the second quarter but failed to pick up a first down on two possessions while completing one of three passing attempts.
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Kilgore got the chance to go first in the Argo offence and didn’t disappoint, completing seven of his first eight passes as the Argos stormed out to a 10-0 lead.
The 26-year-old Middle Tennessee State product looked comfortable in the pocket and confident in his arm early on, finding an open Kenny Shaw to the 50 then on a second down play threading the needle to Hazelton for a first down into Ticats’ territory.
Fighting for the second spot on the Argos’ depth chart this pre-season, Kilgore twice moved the chains on third and short and three times converted lengthy second-down plays, including a pass in the end zone to a wide open Hazelton on second and 13.
The 17-yard score gave the Argos a 7-0 lead, capping off a 15-play drive that took 8:21 off the clock.
The lead got to 10-0 on a 37-yard field goal by newcomer Lirim Hajrullahu, while the Ticats would punt once more before ending the first quarter down by a touchdown and a three-pointer.
After a strong two possessions for Kilgore, the Argos turned their offence over to Ray, but the veteran in his first full season back from shoulder surgery failed to get any momentum. The Argos went two-and-out twice with Ray on the field while Ray went 1-for-3 before letting rookie pivot Cody Fajardo take over.
In one of the biggest roster competitions to watch throughout training camp, the Ticats ended Masoli’s day early in the second quarter and made the switch to 24-year-old Mathews. And after Masoli failed to generate any scoring on 6-of-9 passing, Mathews provided the Ticat offence the spark it needed.
His second passing attempt of the game was a 50-yard strike to a wide open Tiquan Underwood behind the Argos’ secondary, cutting the deficit to 10-7 and giving Mathews a nice step in front on the quarterback competition with 10:35 left in the first half.
Mathews and the ‘Cats looked to strike again shortly after, but after a 51-yard completion to Matt Coates deep in Argos territory he was intercepted by Heath on a second down play near the goal line.THE CANADIAN PRESS 
Despite a return on the interception by Heath up to the Argo 39, the Ticat defence contained Fajardo, flipping the field and setting up a pair of field goals by Brett Maher from 35 and 37 to give the Ticats the lead at halftime, 13-10.
While Maher got off to a strong start in the duel to become the Ticats’ placekicker with a 2-for-2 effort, international Mandell had a chance to make a big impression himself early in the second half but pulled his 50-yard try wide left.
One of the CFL’s most unique plays helped the Argos draw even shortly after. With the offence sputtering and Zack Medeiros punting, the Ticats looked to draw a no yards penalty but were caught watching as Medeiros recovered his own kick to give the Argos possession near midfield.
The short field resulted in Medeiros’ first field goal of the game from 27 yards to make it a 13-13 game just shy of the midway mark of the third quarter.
A 51-yard field goal from Mandell and an Argos safety following a Medeiros miss from 47 made it 16-15 Ticats heading to the fourth, but the Argos would took their first lead since the first half not long after on a field goal by Medeiros set up by a catch from rookie receiver Llevi Noel.
The loudest BMO Field would get all day came shortly after, when the Argos appeared to extend their lead on a defensive touchdown off an interception by Jake Waters. The play was called back on an Argos off-side, but the Argo defence held up and got the ball back for the Argos’ fourth quarterback, Mitchell Gale, to take over.
Gale, a former Ticat and Argo just signed by the Argos on Saturday, led a perfect 6-for-6 drive capped off by a touchdown to Wallace to put the Argos out in front for good, 25-16.
The Boatmen are back in action on June 17 with a trip to Montreal, while the Ticats close their pre-season slate with a home date against the REDBLACKS, also on June 17. Then these East Division rivals will do it all again, this time for real, on June 23 in the season-opener at BMO Field.

ARGOS, TICATS READY TO TEST OUT SQUAD, BMO

It may be just pre-season but the Toronto Argonauts are treating Saturday’s matchup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a way to wipe the slate clean.  Years of watching rivals move into and build home field advantages in intimate, state-of-the-art stadiums and now it is their turn to do the same, eventhough it may not be with all the trimmings.
The Argonauts will get their first opportunity to play at BMO Field, their newly renovated home turf after a 26-year residency at Rogers Centre.  For some of the rookies, the impact of having a new home for the Double Blue may not carry much weight but for veterans such as defensive end Ricky Foley, Saturday will be more than just an exhibition tilt.
“This team has been through a great deal over the past few seasons but that’s all over now and I can’t wait,” Foley told The Canadian Press Firday.  “BMO Field is going to be electric.  It’s a new beginning for this franchise, my teammates and our fans, as well as an opportunity to win another Grey Cup at home.”
The visiting Tiger-Cats have been through a stadium rebirth of their own, opening Tim Hortons Field on the grounds of the old Ivor Wynne Stadium two years ago and have seen nothing but success with a dominant home record and two playoff wins.

The focus on the Tiger-Cats will be under centre as they try to not only sort out their hierarchy behind starter Zach Collaros but also find a replacement for the injured QB as he continues to rehab his injured knee.  Collaros will be unavailable for the Tiger-Cats for the start of the regular season.
Jeremiah Masoli will get the call for the Tiger-Cats looking to build on what was an unexpected finish to 2015.  One where he was thrust into the starting role in the playoffs, winning the Eastern Semi against Toronto and coming within a score of leading the ‘Cats to the Grey Cup.
Head Coach Kent Austin also said that it is likely Jeff Mathews and Jacory Harris will see time as well.
“It  has been a long off-season and I am ready to get back out there with live bullets,” Masoli said on the eve of the tilt. “I’m not looking to prove too much. I just want to be myself and know what I can do.  We have a a great group or receivers and running backs and a deep group of o-linemen.”
For Austin, it is all about seeing what his pivots can do once a healthy competition is lining up on the other side of the ball.
“Jeremiah, Jacory and Jeff have experience playing in a live game – not a ton of experience but experience,” he said. “You cant really get better in partucluar at tat position without playing in real games,  You just cant simulate it (in practice).”
As for the Argonauts, there is no doubt who their starter will be when these two teams kickoff on June 23rd.  Ricky Ray will likely see a few reps but it will be Logan Kilgore taking the snaps to start the ballgame. Kilgore may be the front runner to take over for the now-departed Trevor Harris and Ray says he likes what he sees in the young signal-caller.
“He’s very talented and he has a great arm and he gets the ball out quick”, Ray said of Kilgore.  “It is all about reps.  The more reps, the more comfortable (you are)”.
As for Ray, all eyes are on his now repaired shoulder which he claims is feeling as good as ever.
“My arm has felt great.  I have had no problems with my arm … It’s as good as any time in my career.”
Kickoff is at 4:00pm Saturday at BMO and is the first of three pre-season games on the CFL schedule.

OUTCOME OF SATURDAY’S TILT WON’T BE LOST ON RIDERS, LIONS

 For two teams playing their pre-season opener, don’t expect any less intensity from the BC Lions or Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.
‘Culture change’ has been a phrase heard all over Regina and Vancouver the past few months, as Wally Buono and Chris Jones are in new roles and looking to spark the Riders and Lions respectively heading into 2016.
It’s easy to say a pre-season game doesn’t mean anything, but for two franchises looking to turn the tide it’s a chance to instill the habit of winning on players both young and old.
“It’s about winning,” Buono said during a pre-game interview back in Kamloops, B.C., where he’s led a competitive training camp in his first season back on the sideline following five years away. “It’s about learning how to win, creating a culture of winning and all the things we’ve been preaching from day one about how everything you do has to do with winning.
“So we’re going into the pre-season game maybe a little different than years’ past, where evaluation was critical – I think that’s critical as well – but we want to establish that culture where every time you line up you expect to win.”BCLions.com
The Riders feel the same but for both teams it comes within reason. While the Lions will likely rest Solomon Elimimian and hold Nick Moore, Derek Yachison, Brennan Van Nistelrooy, Levy Adcock, Bryant Turner and Darious Lane out of action due to injury, Saskatchewan won’t start Darian Durant at quarterback.
Durant hasn’t played a game since the 2015 season-opener when he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, but Jones certifies he’s fully healthy – the 33-year-old just doesn’t need to be playing an early meaningless pre-season game.
“He’s completely healthy, this is a pre-season number one so we’ve got a lot of football to play,” said Jones. “He’s practised a lot of plays and looks great . . . he’s in great shape, he’s lighter than he has been. He’s picked up our offence very quickly and he’s a great leader.”
One of Brett Smith or BJ Coleman will start for the Riders, who officially mark the start of their final season at historic Mosaic Stadium on Saturday night.
For Riders fans, No. 16 Smith provides a rare semblance of familiarity, as the 24-year-old looks to lock down the second-string quarterback position against Coleman and recent add Phillip Sims. Jones says the fact that Smith was here last year and earned some valuable playing time puts him neither at an advantage nor a disadvantage.
“Brett Smith just needs to be Brett Smith,” said Jones. “What we did last year in Edmonton doesn’t matter and what he did last year doesn’t matter.
“This year is this year, we just need to go out and compete and have fun and play this game.”
Outside of Smith, Riders fans will recognize very little of what’s before their eyes in pre-season game one. Curtis Steele and Matt Walter provide the one-two punch at running back after arriving from Toronto and Calgary as free agents. At receiver, Rob Bagg, Nic Demski and Naaman Roosevelt are holdovers from last season and will be joined by free agent additions John Chiles, Shamawd Chambers, Clarence Denmark and Kendial Lawrence.
On defence, fans will get their first glimpse of high-profile free agent signing Shawn Lemon but not Justin Capicciotti, who’s missed most of camp so far due to injury. Not a single starter will play in Saturday’s game from last year as linebacker Jeff Knox Jr. sits out with an injury.
That still won’t hinder what should be raucous crowd at Mosaic Stadium, even if it is only pre-season. Despite the departure of fan favourites Weston Dressler and John Chick, Jones has sold hope in bundles this off-season, and Riders fans have their hopes high that the team can fight back in the highly-competitive West and return to the status of contender.
In short, the Lions better be prepared for a hostile environment.
“It’s always an intense place,” said Buono, the CFL’s all-time wins leader. “The challenge of the crowd and opposition makes the games exciting, intense and a lot of fun.”
While Jones wants his team to compete and have fun and begin the process of rebuilding in Regina, Buono brings a competitive outlook to Lions camp. He stressed to his players that Saturday’s game will go a long way in deciding some of the roster spots up for grabs.
All CFL rosters must be reduced to 65 players by Tuesday.
“We’re looking for young players to jump out and show us that they belong,” said Buono.
After re-signing only recently, Adrian Clarke will slot in as the Lions’ middle linebacker in place of Elimimian next to Adam Bighill. Mike Edem is expected to make his debuts in a revamped Lions’ secondary as the starting safety, while Brandon Stewart is not listed on the team’s depth chart for Saturday.
“I’m excited to hit a different coloured jersey,” said Edem. “We’ve been going at each other’s throats for two weeks now, so it’s exciting times.
“We’re looking forward to seeing all the work we’ve put in to come together in a live game situation.”
Rookie receiver Kendrick Ings is among international receivers looking to step into a starting role following the sudden retirement of Lavelle Hawkins. While Jeremiah Johnson is listed as the team’s starting running back, his biggest competition for the job in Anthony Allen will not play Saturday.
Finally, all four quarterbacks are expected to play for the Lions, but with Jonathon Jennings presumed the team’s number one quarterback going into the season, expect to see more action for Greg McGhee and Keith Price in the battle for third string quarterback.
As both the Riders and Lions continue what’s been a highly-competitive camp so far led by two coaches who preach competition across the board, expect a hard-hitting affair with many young players looking to assert themselves.

BATTLE OF ALBERTA ARRIVES EARLY WITH PRE-SEASON MATCHUP

 It’s as if the Eskimos and Stampeders just couldn’t wait for the regular season.
An early edition of the Battle of Alberta commences Saturday at McMahon Stadium, as the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders open their 2016 pre-season slate with a familiar rivalry.
The heat has been turned down considerably since last November when they played in the Western Final – a 45-31 Eskimos win at Commonwealth Stadium – but many of the familiar faces will be present.
Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell have each been named the starters for Saturday’s contest, though it’s unclear how many snaps they will take.
“Just based on how it goes,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said of how he’ll determine Mitchell’s participation. “Certainly I can’t see him in the game past the first quarter. He could play the first quarter, we’ll see how it goes.”
Stampeders.comThe same is probable for Reilly, as both teams want to find that balance between getting the first team offences comfortable and getting them off the field fully healthy.
For Dickenson and Eskimos head coach Jason Maas, it’s the first time either has dealt with such a conundrum. Both are in their rookie season as a CFL head coach, as Dickenson gets the promotion from within while Maas arrives in Edmonton via the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
Both were offensive coordinators last season.
“It’s gonna be a game for me,” said Maas, a new face in the rivalry this year but as a long-time Eskimos quarterback no stranger to the Battle of Alberta. Maas will have no doubt have his hands full in his first taste of head coaching action.
“I’m going to be calling the game offensively, situationally, special teams-wise and talking to Benevides to see where we’re at situations-wise,” he said.
“I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it but it’s a football game and I’ve been a part of it for a long time.”
Maas isn’t the only new coach in Edmonton as the Eskimos will debut almost an entirely new staff on Saturday. Chris Jones took Stephen McAdoo and several others with him to Saskatchewan just weeks after winning the Grey Cup last season, leaving plenty of vacancies on the Esks’ sideline.
The Eskimos are still expected to contend for a Grey Cup this season, but with so many moving parts, this training camp and pre-season is an important time for players and coaches to get on the same page.
It could lead to the Eskimos’ regulars playing longer than the Stampeders’.
“I think it’s definitely important for me to get at least a couple of snaps in this game just to get back into the swing of things but also get back into how we’re going to operate on the field,” said Reilly.
“It’s going to be a little different than it was last year. Any live game-type reps we can get, it’s just going to get us more prepared for that first regular season game.”
The Eskimos will line up most of their expected regulars on the offensive side of the ball, including free agent signing Joel Figueroa at left tackle, Jacoby Ford in Kenny Stafford’s old position and Chris Getzlaf also in the slot, although Adarius Bowman is missing on the Esks’ listed depth chart.
A number of starters will be absent on the defensive side of the ball including JC Sherritt, Almondo Sewell, Odell Willis, Marcus Howard and Cauchy Muamba, as the focus there for Maas and Defensive Coordinator Mike Benevides turns to competition.
Kenny Ladler and Deion Belue are among early pre-season favourites to win starting jobs on the Esks’ defence, as voids have been left by the departed Aaron Grymes, Otha Foster and Dexter McCoil.
The Stampeders have gone through plenty of change as well. Saturday night in particular marks the debut of a new-look receiving corps now without Eric Rogers and Jeff Fuller, as Marquay McDaniel, Kamar Jorden, Bakari Grant and Joe West should all play a role.
The biggest battle for playing time may come from national receivers, as Dickenson has said at least one will start this season and Anthony Parker, second-year Lemar Durant and Simon Charbonneau-Campeau are all up to the task.
While Max Caron is locked in a battle to start at middle linebacker with Taylor Reed, another position to keep an eye on throughout Saturday is the O-line. Shane Bergman and Pierre Lavertu won’t play, leaving rookie international Alex Fifita to start at left guard and 2016 draft pick Roman Grozman at centre.
So far Grozman’s transition at the position has surprised almost everyone, but whether he can continue that in the game is a different question.
“He’s been better than I think we imagined,” said Dickenson. “We were happy where we got him, we thought he’d be gone. But with our injury situation he’s been a blessing.
“We really didn’t see a centre. I think he can do it, but he’s basically in there with the ones, making all the calls and doing a good job. Really happy with how he’s taken to the coaching, and he’s a leader too – he’s a smart kid.”
The Stampeders relied heavily upon their O-line depth to get through last season, and it looks like more the same early on in 2016.
Also keep an eye on the return game, where a battle to become the team’s primary kick returner ensues, while Bryant Moniz and national Andrew Buckley battle it out to be the team’s third string quarterback.
While many Eskimos coaches and Stamps head coach Dickenson are debuting in new positions, the same goes for Stampders defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks, who earned a promotion in the off-season to defensive coordinator to fill in for the departed Rich Stubler (Toronto).
The Stamps and Eskimos shared the best regular-season record in the CFL last season with 14-4 marks, also sharing identical records at home (8-1), on the road (6-3), against the West (8-2) and against the East (6-2).
Calgary led the West with 478 points scored while Edmonton was second at 466. The Eskimos and Stamps were the league’s stingiest teams with 341 and 346 points allowed, respectively.
This is the first pre-season contest between the provincial rivals since June 15, 2012, when the Stamps pulled out a 20-17 win on a last-play field goal by Rob Maver. The Stamps had tied the game with 1:06 left to play thanks to a touchdown pass from Brad Sinopoli to Marquay McDaniel and then a successful two-point convert pass with the same two players.
The Stampeders defeated the Eskimos on Labour Day last season but the Eskimos went on to take the season series, then after defeating Calgary in the Western Final claimed the 103rd Grey Cup Championship with a win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS.