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September 3, 2018

HEAVYWEIGHT SLUGFEST

Calgary, AB - Sept. 3, 2018: The Calgary Stampeders won 23-20 vs. the Edmonton Eskimos at McMahon Stadium Sunday afternoon. Photo by David Moll / Calgary Stampeders.

The Marquis of Queensbury Rules definitely did not apply.

“That,”confessed Ja’Gared Davis, “felt like a 15-round bout. Ali vs. Frazier. Two big old heavyweights not giving an inch, swinging for a knockout.

“These types of games, man, they do take it out of you.

“We knew they were going to come out fighting, no quit, and that they’d keep punching until the clock struck zero.

“I mean, look at their team. Look at their quarterback. Look at their receivers. At their running back. Look who they’ve got on the O-line. On defence.

“They’re resilient. They’re proud.

“But so are we.

“We both kept punching. Nobody backed down. Nobody backed up.

“We just landed one more punch than they did.”

That punch, a senses-sapping haymaker at 00:00 of the fourth quarter, wasn’t delivered by one of the biggest men in this fight, but by a middleweight – Stampeders’ placekicker Rene Paredes, whose 43-yard straight-and-true arrow pierced the heart of the goal posts and ripped the heart out of the Edmonton Eskimos, 23-20.

A walk-off Labour Day field-goal to win. How Classic is that?

“These games are hard,’’ said slotback DaVaris Daniels, superb in making 13 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. “But they’re fun. I love it. I love big-pressure games like that. Where every second matters. Every play matters.

“We had a lot of guys drop. They had a lot of guys drop. Everybody’s sore. But that’s what we expected. And that’s what we expect next (game).”

There were so many players laid out on the sideline training tables over the course of an afternoon that it seemed like a mattress ad.

From a Stampeder perspective, leading receiver and Player of the Month for August Kamar Jorden limped to the sideline, then the dressing room. Marquee man Bo Levi Mitchell hobbled off late in the third quarter, only to return and piece together a late drive (aided by an illegal contact penalty) that set up the Paredes drama. Star cornerback Ciante Evans got nicked up, exited and remained a spectator.

The war of attrition exacted a toll.

“We lost a few horses out there,’’ said Stampeder boss Dave Dickenson. “But our team rallied. I don’t think we played overly well but we kept fighting.

“Our fans were into it, loud crowd. Really, turnovers was what it came down to. Our D was able to get the ball out of their hands numerous, numerous times.

“Wasn’t like we outplayed them.

“We just held up long enough up front. Bo wasn’t moving around like (he had been) early. There was some wind out of our sails when K.J. got hurt on that unfortunate play. There were a lot of mistakes.

“But the guys never lost belief.”

Why, even in the men who didn’t give or take a hit felt as if they’d been trapped inside a wood chipper for three hours.

“You’ve got to take a deep breath because you’re completely gassed,’’ said Dickenson. “Just out of energy. It’s exhausting. Even as a coach I’m tired, so I wonder what the players are like.

“When you play hard, win or lose, you’re probably just as sore.

“But if you come out on top, you can usually recover faster.”

The Eskimos held possession with 1:47 left and the score knotted at 20s but a customary big stop by the Calgary defence – buoyed by the presence of co-ordinator DeVone Claybrooks back on the sidelines after clearing up health issues – left Mitchell with 1:04 left to weave some magic.

One illegal contact penalty, two passes and two runs later, Paredes trotted on with the game hinging on his prodigious right foot.

The ramifications were only too obvious: victory opens up a six-point Stampeder lead atop the West Division standings over the Eskimos and Saskatchewan.

“These games,’’ said Davis, “test what’s inside you. How close a team you are.

“There were times we could’ve let it go but we didn’t. We stuck together. We kept picking each other up, believing somehow we’d come out with the W.

“Of course, you always want everything to go your way. That’s only human nature. But this game … just back and forth, back and forth. Momentum going from side to side.

“This is when all the long hours, the extra film, the tough practices during training camp, count. All those things lead up to these moments.”

And just think, they climb back into the ring against the same opponent later Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

“Another fight,’’ said Davis. “Another test. It’ll be no different than today. A slugfest.”

Five days until the bell for Round 2.