It’s shaping up to be quite a finish in the West Division.
Just four points separate second from fifth in the conference standings heading into the final third of the regular season. The Calgary Stampeders (10-2) are first, four points ahead of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-5).
The Edmonton Eskimos (7-6) are third, just two points ahead of both the B.C. Lions (6-6) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-7).
Edmonton and Winnipeg face each other twice down the stretch, including Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium. They’ll square off again Nov. 3 in Alberta.
The Bombers will also meet Calgary and Saskatchewan as well as Ottawa. The Lions, with a game in hand on Winnipeg, will play West Division rivals four times — Calgary twice, Edmonton and Saskatchewan — in addition to the Redblacks and Toronto Argonauts.
Edmonton’s other contests are versus Saskatchewan, B.C. and Ottawa.
The Riders visit the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday before finishing their regular season with four division games.
There’s also a race for first in the East Division. Ottawa (8-5) holds down top spot with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (6-7) four points behind. Toronto (3-9) and Montreal (3-10) are tied for third and both need a miracle to make the playoffs as they’re three wins behind both B.C. and Winnipeg in the crossover scenario.
Hamilton hosts B.C. on Saturday after losing 35-32 in Vancouver last weekend. Then the Ticats finish their regular season against Eastern rivals — including a crucial home-and-home with Ottawa Oct. 19 and Oct. 27.
Ottawa also plays Toronto with contests against Winnipeg and Edmonton as well.
NO SLOWING DOWN:
Veteran running back Marcus Thigpen had an 82-yard touchdown run in Saskatchewan’s 30-29 road win over Toronto on Saturday night, his third TD this season covering 80 or more yards.
The 32-year-old Thigpen also had a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown in a 30-25 loss to Ottawa on Sept. 15 and an 80-yard TD run July 20 in a 31-20 victory over Hamilton.
“That’s what I’ve been known for over the years, my speed,” Thigpen said. “The offensive line is blocking well for us, the holes are big and once I get to the second level I feel like there’s nobody that can catch me.”
The five-foot-nine, 195-pound dynamo has spent time with eight NFL clubs (twice with both Buffalo and Miami) and three CFL teams (Hamilton, second tenure with Saskatchewan) since ‘09. He’s excelled as a receiver, running back and kick returner.
“I think it’s a testament to the way I work,” said Thigpen, a Detroit native. “I work out every single day, I don’t take any days off.
“I make sure I keep my body in shape, I eat right. I just do things the right way.”
Thigpen has scored 23 career TDs — NFL and CFL — five different ways. Six have come as a receiver, eight on the ground, three via kickoffs, three on punts and another three on missed field goals.
Thigpen has rushed for 383 yards on 43 carries this season (8.9-yard average). He’s defying the conventional wisdom that pro running backs start losing effectiveness after turning 30.
“It’s really about your mind, your will, what you want to get accomplished,” Thigpen said. “If you take care of your body and have never had any serious injuries, I feel like you can play this game for a while.”
Chris Jones, the Riders head coach/GM, wasn’t surprised with Thigpen’s big-play ability.
“He’s a very explosive player,’ Jones said. “He can play a lot of different positions and he can break tackles.
“Certainly when he gets into the open field there’s very few people who can run him down.”
It was an improved outing for Johnny Manziel, but he’s still chasing his first win and TD pass as a CFL starter.
The former Heisman Trophy winner completed 18-of-25 passes for 212 yards in Montreal’s 31-14 loss to Winnipeg on Friday night. After throwing four interceptions in his first CFL start, Manziel has surrendered just one, that coming against the Bombers.
As a starter, Manziel has completed 45-of-71 passes (63.4 per cent) for 484 yards. He’s also rushed 11 times for 76 yards and had a 21-yard catch versus Winnipeg.
But Manziel is 0-3 as a CFL starter with no touchdown passes. Montreal hosts Saskatchewan on Sunday afternoon.
Rookie Lewis Ward is on a record roll.
Ward booted seven field goals in Ottawa’s 28-15 win over Edmonton on Saturday. He’s made 37 straight, breaking the previous CFL single-season mark of 32 set by Calgary’s Rene Paredes.
Paredes still holds the league record for most consecutive field goals over two seasons (39).
Ward, a former Ottawa Gee-Gee, has been automatic since making 3-of-4 attempts in Ottawa’s season-opening 40-17 win over Saskatchewan. The miss was from 48 yards out.
Overall, Ward has made 40-of-41 attempts. Ottawa (8-5) is off until Oct. 5 when hosts Winnipeg.
Hamilton has become a playoff contender under head coach June Jones, but he’s receiving plenty of criticism for a late decision in the Ticats’ 35-32 overtime loss Saturday night to B.C.
Hamilton led 28-21 with just under a minute remaining in regulation when Jones had Lirim Hajrullahu punt for the single rather than try a 44-yard field goal. A successful boot would’ve made it a two-possession game.
Hajrullahu had missed from 42 yards in the first half but made kicks of 50 and 47 yards in the second half. His single put Hamilton ahead 29-21, but Jonathon Jennings drove B.C. 59 yards, hitting Bryan Burnham on a 20-yard TD and two-point conversion to force overtime.
B.C.’s Ty Long hit the game-winning field goal in the second extra session to cement the victory.
Hamilton hosts B.C. on Saturday afternoon.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press