CALGARY – The mystery of Edmonton’s starting quarterback for the Labour Day game in Calgary will extend into game day.
Mike Reilly’s thumb on his throwing hand has not completely healed since he injured it last week against Toronto. Matt Nichols came off the bench and threw for 178 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice, in a 41-27 win.
Twenty-four hours before Monday’s kickoff at McMahon Stadium, neither Reilly nor Eskimos coach Chris Jones were forthcoming on who would take first snaps.
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“We’re waiting to see how Mike feels in the morning and however he feels is how we utilize him,” Jones said.
Reilly has 26 consecutive starts in the CFL, but he left the game against the Argos after just two plays. His message Sunday was mixed in that he indicated he could play even though his hand was compromised.
“I know however they’re going to use me, if they’re going to use me, I’ll be ready to go,” Reilly said. “I got to get on the field and throw yesterday.
“It’s not 100 per cent, but it’s good enough to get out on the field and play.”
Calgary went 14-4 while the Eskimos were 4-14 last season. But the CFL’s Battle of Alberta is back on in 2014.
At 7-1, Calgary and Edmonton are tied atop the CFL and the West Division. The Stampeders and Eskimos have identical 4-0 road records and are both 3-1 at home. The Stamps and Esks have each won three games in a row.
“The hype is justified,” said Stampeder slotback Nik Lewis, a veteran of 10 Labour Day games. “When you have such an important game of inter-provincial rivals and they’re both tied for first place, there’s a lot on the line.”
Monday’s winner will take over sole possession of first place for at least a few days before Saturday’s rematch in Edmonton.
Calgary won 26-22 in Edmonton on July 24, so the Stampeders look to clinch the season series Monday. If two clubs are tied in points at the conclusion of the regular season, the winner of the season series gains the higher ranking in the standings.
“When you play a team in your division three times, obviously winning the season series is important in the final standings,” Stampeder head coach and general manager John Hufnagel said.
“But this game will not decide anything concerning the standings. Just another win in the column. It’s a dogfight in the West (Division). I truly believe things won’t be figured out until the last regular-season game.”
The Stampeder coach felt prepared for whoever is behind centre for Edmonton.
“I’m not bothered by it,” Hufnagel said. “I take it they’re waiting to see whether Mike is ready to go. I’m sure if he’s ready to go he’ll play.
“You prepare for their tendencies. Like I’ve always said about our quarterbacks, they all have the same playbook, they’re all running the same plays. The quarterback will put their personality to the play. Matt has played a lot of football in the league. He’s won football games in the league.”
The forecast for Monday’s kickoff at 2:30 p.m. local time is sunny and 18 degrees. There were still tickets available Sunday with about 33,000 sold, according to a Stampeder spokesman.
Both the Stampeders and Eskimos will debut “signature,” jerseys Monday. Calgary’s went on sale Friday and feature crossed pistols on each shoulder.
Stampeder quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is 10-1 in CFL starts, but this is his first on Labour Day. He went into last year’s game in the second quarter, however, when Kevin Glenn bruised his knee.
Mitchell threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Calgary led 37-7 with 10 minutes remaining when the Eskimos rallied. Reilly threw four touchdown passes, but the comeback fell short of a win.
The Eskimos rank second in the CFL in quarterback sacks with an average of 3.6 per game. But Calgary’s offensive line held Edmonton to just one in their previous meeting.
“We want to go out each week and protect Bo,” centre Brett Jones said. “We’ve had success when he’s been able to stand up and make those throws so we know what we’ve got to do and so does Bo.”
Stampeder running back Jon Cornish and receiver Maurice Price will face Edmonton for the first time this season. Cornish, the CFL’s leading rusher the last two seasons, was on the injured list with concussion symptoms in July.
Price hasn’t played since the June 28 season-opener when he broke his hand. Price had three touchdowns in last year’s Labour Day game.
With Fred Stamps out with an injury, Reilly has made Adarius Bowman a favourite target. Bowman is the league leader in receiving yards with 619 for five touchdowns.