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Special teams power Stampeders to win over Eskimos

Special teams matter.

That’s maybe never been more obvious than it was on Saturday evening at McMahon Stadium, where the Calgary Stampeders (5-2) outlasted the Edmonton Eskimos (4-3) and earned themselves a 24-18 win.

On a night when both offences struggled, it was the guys on both teams’ special teams units who came up with the game’s defining plays.

Kick returner Terry Williams was outstanding and scored a game-changing 103-yard touchdown in the third quarter that ended a stretch where the Eskimos started seizing momentum. He had a fumble, too, but he also ran a punt back for a touchdown earlier that was called-back because of a penalty.

Kicker Rene Paredes was lights-out, going 4-for-5 — his only miss was a tough 52-yarder — while his counterpart on the Eskimos, Sean Whyte, missed a field goal and a convert.

Charlie Power also forced a pivotal fumble late in the third quarter that was recovered by Royce Metchie, setting up the Stampeders’ first offensive touchdown in more than seven quarters.

It’s not often that special teams are as impactful as they were in Saturday’s Battle of Alberta — although you could make the argument that special teams were just as big in the Stamps’ loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats three weeks ago — but they sure made the difference in this pivotal West Division matchup.

As expected, both defences were exceptional and had moments where they completely took control.

The Stamps defence was particularly good in the first half, when they held the Eskimos scoreless and repeatedly frustrated Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris, who finished having completed 29-of-41 passes for 373 yards.

The Stamps offence was better in the opening two quarters, although they again struggled to get into the endzone and relied on three Paredes field goals to give them a 9-0 lead at halftime.

The whole tone of the game changed in the third quarter, though, and Harris began getting just a little more time to find his receivers downfield.

After the Stamps conceded a safety early in the third quarter, they suddenly found that their lead had disappeared when Harris connected with Ricky Collins for an 83-yard TD.

The deadlock was over almost as soon as it started, when Williams took off for his 103-yard kick return TD.

A couple minutes later, Power forced Eskimos returner Martese Jackson to fumble and the Stamps got the ball deep in Edmonton territory.

Finally, the Stampeders offence found a way into the endzone when quarterback Nick Arbuckle — who completed 19-of-28 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown — connected with Eric Rogers, who danced his way in for a 25-yard TD.

But the Eskimos didn’t just roll over and die. Harris was considerably better after halftime and connected with Collins for another touchdown to make the score 21-15 before Whyte kicked a fieldgoal to bring the score to within three.

The comeback attempt ended there, as the Stampeders defence rose to the occasion and did what was needed to hold on for the win.

It’s a huge victory for the Stampeders as it moves them ahead of their provincial rivals and into a tie for first-place in the West Division with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who they play on Thursday in the Manitoba capital.