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August 3, 2019

A BATTLE TO THE BITTER END

Sitting in his stall, Cordarro Law looked arm weary, pretty close to punched out; as if he’d just gone 15 rounds with the heavy bag.

“Like one of those old Ali-Frazier fights,’’ whistled the bounty-hunting rush end. “I wasn’t around at the time but I’ve heard the stories.

“That’s why they call it the Battle of Alberta, right?

“Nobody backs up. Nobody gives an inch. You just keep fighting, keep pounding away, until you can’t fight any more.

“They drove the ball and had a chance to win. Nothing comes easy.

“Big play at the end. BIG play.

“That was a last-punch KO.”

On that last play, one second left on the clock, scrimmaging at the Calgary Stampeders’ 17-yard-line, QB Trevor Harris launches a pass into the corner of the end zone, intended for wideout Kevin Elliott.

Rising to the flight of the ball, not to mention the occasion, SAM linebacker Jamar Wall and defensive back Raheem Wilson choked off the threat.

Putting the finishing touch on a edgy 24-18 gut-check victory that has the Calgary Stampeders now tied atop the divisional and league standings at 5-2.

“Our guys are really playing hard and buying into what we’re trying to do,’’ sighed Stamps’ coach Dave Dickenson. “We’re not pretty right now but sometimes we’re effective and just know how to do.

“There’s a lot of things we can improve on. I’m excited about that. If you can win when you’re not playing well that’s a real good thing for your team.

“Ultimately we know we can play better, have to play better, have to keep improving.

“But in order to get a W there it took a lot of heart from our guys and they got it done.”

On a to-and-fro, give-and-take evening, all three phases took turns chipping in for the home side. A predominantly rock-solid special teams night was highlighted by a breathtaking 103-yard kick return TD by Terry Williams and a four-for-five field-goal contribution from 150-game man Rene Paredes. The Nick Arbuckle-directed offence snapped an eight-and-a-half-quarters touchdown blight via a 25-yard Eric Rogers snare to establish a 21-9 lead a nap by end of the third quarter and the defence – which had limited Edmonton to a pauper’s 78 yards through the first half – held fast when it needed to late on during the Eskies’ final two desperation drive attempts.

“Such a great team win,’’ is how Arbuckle, now sporting a 4-1 record spelling for the injured Bo Levi Mitchell, summed it up. “When you put it together – special teams scores, offence scores, defence gets turnovers, great field position a lot of times and the way they shut down their offence in the first half was just phenomenal.

“Whenever you can beat really good football teams without playing your best football for four quarters I think says a lot about us.

“Because once we get going and the offence starts finishing drives, stop kicking less field goals and start scoring more touchdowns, I think it’s going to be scary for us.”

Defiantly dominant throughout a suffocating opening 30 minutes, the Stampeder defence took the best shots QB Trevor Harris and his crew could deliver in the second half, were wobbled a couple of times but managed to stay on its feet.

“We expected nothing less than dogfight and we got one,’’ said 12-year DB Brandon Smith, whose been through his share of these provincial fracases.

“Stand toe-to-toe and see who’s gonna be the last man standing. And today, fortunately, we did enough, got enough punches in, to come away with the victory.”

For Williams, the return TD was one of many across the board not even halfway through this CFL season.

“I can’t help but watch the (other) games,’’ he said. “Seeing other people score touchdowns … I’m just happy my guys opened up a seam for me, I hit it and trusted my eyes.

“A crazy game. I had the fumble that I thought might cost us. Then that last play … there was no time left, then one second left, they get that last chance and I’m like: ‘Man!’

“A shout-out to Edmonton. That’s a great team. But we’re always going to get the best from other teams. We’re defending champions.”

They’re proving to once again be made of tough stuff again in this season of change.

“I think we’ve done a great job as a group showing a lot of resiliency this year,’’ agreed O-lineman Derek Dennis. “We’re not winning in the way people are used to seeing us win but we’re still getting it done.

“That shows how much grit, how much fight, this group has. That regardless of the situation, we gonna keep playing hard until the last whistle.”

When asked if he’d maybe stop and take a second to reflect on waking up Sunday morning to find he and his mates atop the, Arbuckle smiled in replay.

“Maybe a second,’’ he sad. “But you don’t get much time when you’ve got a five-day week turnaround on the road against one of the best teams in the CFL.

“It’s Go Time.”

Off that short week Arbuckle mentioned, the Stamps next face a date against another 5-2 team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, before a home date versus Montreal, followed by – tympani roll, please – the annual back-to-back Labour Day Week twin-bill versus these same Eskimos.

“That,” agreed Dennis, returning to Saturday and the Sweet Science motif, “is what two heavyweights look like, slugging it out early in the season.

“But this is just Round One. But we’ve got a couple more Rumbles in the Jungle coming up against those guys.”