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Stampeders Cornish says he's prepared for Eskimos pressure in CFL's West final

11/21/2014 05:49 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Jon Cornish has heard the Edmonton Eskimos want to limit his yards in Sunday's CFL West Division final. It echoes what the Calgary Stampeders star has heard throughout the three seasons he's been the dominant running back in the league.

"When you play this sport at the level I do, every week there's going to be people gunning for me. That's how it is," Cornish said.

"That is the reality of my life. People are going to be out gunning for me. Because I'm a main piece of this offence, shutting me down is going to be of critical importance to teams that want to beat us. I learned that a long time ago, so I don't think anything different."

Calgary (15-3) and Edmonton (12-6) meet at McMahon Stadium in the first all-Alberta division final since 2001.

The winner advances to the Grey Cup in Vancouver on Nov. 30. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes (9-9) square off Sunday in the East Division final.

Calgary's last trip to a Grey Cup was in 2012 and their last win came in 2008. Edmonton's last appearance and victory in the CFL's championship game was in 2005.

Edmonton's defence ranks second in the CFL in defending the rush, but corralling the three-time CFL rushing leader and winner of the Most Outstanding Player award in 2013 is no easy task.

Cornish appeared in just half of Calgary's regular-season games, yet won the league's rushing title a third straight year with 1,082 yards. Cornish posted over 100 yards in six of his nine games, including two he played against Edmonton.

The 30-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., ran for a combined 272 yards, two touchdowns and a dozen first downs in the Labour Day series versus the Esks on Sept. 1 and Sept. 6. Calgary won those games by scores of 28-13 and 41-34.

"We want to stop him because their offence does evolve around him most of the time," Eskimos defensive end Willie Jefferson said in Edmonton this week. "We have to slow him down, make them try to find another way to win the game without him.”

Cornish also won the CFL's Outstanding Canadian honour in 2012 and 2013 and is a finalist for it a third straight year. His performance so far in 2014 begs the question, what numbers could Cornish have reached in the regular season if he'd been healthier?

He didn't participate in a 26-22 victory over the Esks on July 21. He was knocked out in the season-opener against Montreal and sidelined the next six games.

After sitting out another pair of games for more precautionary reasons later in the season, Cornish bounced his head off the McMahon Stadium turf Nov. 1.

The halfback didn't play in Calgary's regular-season finale as he was put through concussion protocol. Cornish has been back to full practice this week.

Eskimos head coach Chris Jones was Toronto's defensive co-ordinator when the Argonauts defeated the Stampeders 35-22 in the 2012 Grey Cup. Cornish rushed for 57 yards in the game.

The Stampeders went 14-4 last season only to lose 35-13 at home in the West final to eventual Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan. Calgary committed seven turnovers and Cornish mustered 60 yards in the game played in icy temperatures.

Sunday's forecast is for mostly sunny skies and a high of minus-2, but some snow is expected Saturday. The Calgary and Edmonton offences rank first and second respectively moving the football on the ground, so the run game will be key for both sides.

"If you look at the last few games that we've lost in the playoffs, we haven't been able to set up a good run game," Cornish said.

"In the last Western final, turnovers just put us down. In the Grey Cup, we were outschemed. (Chris Jones) has a very smart defensive mindset, but it's our job to establish our game. They're going to do their thing like they've been saying. We're going to do our thing."

Defensive end Charleston Hughes, winner of the CFL's defensive player award in 2013, has been testing his foot in practice this week. Hughes hasn't played since injuring it Sept. 13 during a game against Toronto.

"One of the obstacles right now is just mentally getting back into the game," Hughes said. "I've been out for two months.

"I think I can have a big impact in the game as soon as I step on the field. It's one of those things where my presence on the field changes the way a team has to deal with us."

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