Eskimos Dismantle Argonauts

With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeating the Ottawa Red Blacks on Friday night, the Edmonton Eskimos fate had been decided.  For the third time ever, the team will play in the Eastern Semi Final next Sunday in Hamilton.  Looking at the depth chart, you could see the Eskimos were hedging their bets with their roster.  A number of starters had been scratched, but a number of others were listed 2nd or 3rd which would have given Head Coach Jason Maas some flexibility in getting his starting offense on the field had there been a chance to stay in the west, but that was not to be.

With no way to improve their place in the standings, the Eskimos played many of their ‘depth players’ in an attempt to see how well they would perform under live fire.  Mike Reilly, Adarius Bowman, John White and Derel Walker would remain on the sidelines while the likes of James Franklin, Shakir Bell, Bryant Mitchell and Brandon Zylstra got the start.  The Eskimo defense took the field to start the game and got off to their traditional ‘slow start’ as the Argonauts drove 84 yards in 10 plays to score the opening touchdown of the game.  In what was a gutsy call, the Argonauts tried a short kickoff which they did not recover and the Eskimos made them pay for that.  It took only two plays for the Eskimos to tie the game and set the stage for a very good offensive performance in the first half.

Despite giving up an opening drive touchdown, the Eskimos scored the next 28 points to build a lead they would never relinquish.  James Franklin had an impressive first half throwing for 265 yards and four touchdowns and was never sacked.  Neither team had many rushing yards in the first half as almost all of the offense came via the pass.  The Eskimo defense also rested a number of starters this week and despite a long touchdown drive by the Argonauts, to make the score 28-14, they did not give up much else.  Despite not having anything to play for in the standings, the Argonaut coaching staff is no doubt looking at next year and the players want to make an impression prior to next year.

After a combined 42 point first half, things kind of settled down in the second half.  James Franklin played the third quarter and while the scoring pace definitely slowed, the Eskimos maintained a firm grip on the game.  The teams exchanged field goals in the third and when the fourth quarter started, the Eskimos turned the reigns over to their third string QB Jordan Lynch.  The Eskimo offense became more ‘run oriented’ in the final quarter as they attempted to run out the clock and finish off the visiting Argonauts.  While the Eskimos only had about thirty yards on the ground in the first half, that ballooned to 143 yard total for the game.

The Eskimos accomplished all they set out to do in a game that was meaningless in the standings.  Players that needed time off got that time off while those that do not see the field regularly got a chance to showcase what they could do.  For the third time ever, the Eskimos will play in the Eastern Semi Final travelling to Hamilton to take on the Tiger Cats.  While the Eskimos have been playing their best football the last month, the Tiger Cats are stumbling into the playoffs.  While this does not guarantee an Eskimo victory, it definitely tilts the field.

Eskimos Win In Hamilton

The Eskimos were looking to rebound from a tough loss last week against the Lions and get back in the win column.  Zac Collaros returned to the lineup after missing two games hoping to help his team overtake Ottawa for first place in the Eastern Conference.  The Eskimos need to be better with the playoffs approaching and having to keep in mind they could be playing the Eastern Semi Final against these same Tiger Cats.  Although there is still a chance the Eskimos could play in the West, the chances are quite remote.

The Eskimos kicked off to start this game and got off to their patented slow start.  Collaros took the Tiger Cats 69 yards on their opening drive and scored a touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead.  The Eskimo offense was not quite as good as they managed a single first down before having to punt the ball away.  Hamilton took their second drive deep into Eskimo territory before hitting a field goal to take a 10-0 lead.  The Eskimo offense finally got on track late in the first quarter with a touchdown of their own to make the score 10-6 (Whyte missed the extra point).  Despite only having the ball for just over four minutes, the Eskimos only trailed by four points.

The second quarter saw the Eskimos start to take control of the game.  A fumble by Junior Collins recovered by Neil King swung the momentum of the game.  Although the Eskimos could only manage a field goal (making the score 11-9 Hamilton), the Eskimo offense started to click while the Hamilton defense got shot down by the Eskimos.  The Eskimos managed one more field goal to take their first lead of the game and went into half time leading 12-11.  Despite being seriously outplayed in the first quarter, the Eskimos had turned things around.

The Eskimos received the kickoff to start the second half and the offense continued to roll in the third quarter.  The team went on a 23-0 run building a 29-11 lead early in the fourth quarter.  With things apparently in control, that is when things turned around.  Right after taking the 18 point lead, the Hamilton Tiger Cats responded with a touchdown of their own (with a two point convert) to make the lead 10.  The Eskimo offense stumbled a little bit and gave Hamilton a bit of life.  Hamilton scored two touchdowns in a seven minute span to draw to within a field goal.  Hamilton attempted an onside kick to give themselves a chance for the winning field goal, but Adarius Bowman tipped the ball out of bounds to maintain possession.  The final minute was run off by the Eskimo offense to secure the victory.

Eskimos Three Game Winning Streak Snapped

This was a huge game for the Edmonton Eskimos as they chase both the B.C. Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the right to host a playoff game.  Coming off the bye week I had high expectations for a good start and a solid outing…instead, the team got off to one of its patented ‘slow starts’ and dug themselves a hole they would not be able to get out of.  What made it worse for the team was that both the offense and the defense did not play well the entire first half.

The first quarter was not particularly good for either team but the Lions had the ball for over 11 minutes.  Luckily for Edmonton, the only points came on a Ritchie Leone 25 yard field goal to give the home team a 3-0 lead.  The Eskimos managed to tie the game early in the second quarter on a 31 yard field goal of their own, but the offense could not muster much more.  The Lions continued to move the ball scoring a couple of touchdowns and building an 18-5 halftime lead.  The last touchdown drive was the most damaging as Jennings hit Manny Arcenaux for a 70 yard touchdown with about two minutes left in the half.

As they have done so many times this season, the Eskimos offense had a very productive third quarter and managed to draw to within a touchdown.  Unfortunately, the hole they dug themselves in the first 30 minutes ended being too deep.  The Eskimos battled to get themselves back in the game, but they could not overtake the Lions.  Time of possession was heavily in the Lions favour and when you do not have the football it makes it difficult to overcome a deficit.

This was a major setback for the Eskimos as the loss leaves them four points behind both the Lions and the Bombers and unless there is a catastrophic collapse by one or both of these teams, the Eskimos will be off to the Eastern Conference for the playoffs.  There is a miniscule chance the Eskimos can still host a playoff game, but it requires both the Lions and the Bombers lose their remaining two games while the Eskimos win both.  While not a very good chance of happening, there is still a mathematical possibility.

Eskimos Thump Alouette’s

The Eskimos were in Montreal to take on the Alouette’s on Thanksgiving Monday, continuing their pursuit of a playoff spot.  The good news for Edmonton was that Winnipeg was playing the B.C. Lions this week which meant one of them was likely to lose (assuming the game does not end up in a tie) which would keep things close.  That being said, the Eskimos still had to win this game and with Montreal coming off a big win against the Argonauts last week that was far from a certainty.

The Eskimos would have to play a strong road game with few mistakes if they were going to win this game and keep pace with the other Western teams.  The first quarter was slow for both teams as each were only able to attempt a field goal with the Eskimos being successful on their attempt.  The Eskimos had more success on offense in the second quarter, but they also turned the ball over three times.  While Montreal was not able to fully capitalize on those turnovers, it did keep the score closer than it should have been.  The statistics favoured the visiting Eskimos, but all that translated on the score board was a 16-11 half time lead.

The Eskimos offense took control of the game in the second half rolling up 519 total yards with 173 of those being on the ground.  It was the second week on the roster for rookie WR Brandon Zylstra and he had a breakout week.  It was his first 100 yard receiving game in the CFL and he was a major contributor in the win.  Bowman also had a 100+ yard game and Walker came in with just under a hundred as the Eskimo receiving corps had success against the Alouette’s.  This was the second week in a row where the Eskimos dressed both John White and Shakir Bell and while Bell did not see any action, the idea of both of them being in the backfield is very appealing.

The Eskimo offense kept the ‘pedal to the medal’ in the second half and rolled to a 40-20 win.  It was their most complete performance of the year and something they will need to do pretty much each and every week if they are going to make a run for second place and a home playoff game.  When you consider only a few weeks ago the Eskimos were not in a playoff position, things are looking much brighter now.  The Eskimos now have their bye week break and will get a well deserved 12 day break before going back on the road for a huge game against the B.C. Lions on October 22nd.

Eskimo Take Season Series Over Bombers

The Eskimos head out for the first game of a four game road trip that will take the team everywhere from Montreal to Vancouver.  First up are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who surprised the Eskimos back in July with a 30-23 win.  That meant the season series was tied 1-1 and the winner of this game would have the tie breaker should the teams be tied at the end of the regular season.  While winning the season series would be huge, the fact of the matter is that the Eskimos still trail Winnipeg by four points in the standings which made this game pretty much a must win.

Winnipeg drew first blood on this night when former Eskimo quarterback Matt Nichols hit Weston Dressler for a 49 yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.  The Eskimos responded with a scoring drive of their own moving the ball xx yards in x plays to tie the score.  Despite the score being tied at the end of the first quarter, the statistics favoured the Eskimos.  Time of possession, rushing yards and passing yards all favoured Edmonton and when you look at it, the Bombers were fortunate to be tied on the score board.

John White returned to the lineup tonight as the starting running back and he looked like a man on a mission.  He was a force running and catching the ball and the Blue Bomber defense had a hard time containing him.  One of the things that the Bomber defense has thrived on this season is the turnover ratio.  It has lead to many points and if the Eskimos were going to have a chance to win the game, they could not turn the ball over.  There were only two turnovers in the first half and the Bomber turnover resulted in taking points off the board when Winston Dressler fumbled inside the Eskimo five that was recovered by Deon Lacey.  On the other side of the ball, John White (?) fumbled but the Bombers could not get any points from it.

The third quarter was dominated by the defenses as only five points were scored.  The Bombers got a field goal to make it 24-13 but the Eskimos got a safety to make the score 26-13.  The fourth quarter saw the re-emergence of both offenses and the scoring came fast and furious.  It looked like a heavy weight bout as both offenses traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter.  The turning point in the game came with just 1:46 left when Mike Reilly hit Derel Walker for a 61 yard touchdown to seal the win for Edmonton.  A two point convert by John White gave the Eskimos a 40-26 lead and that pretty much sealed the win.  It was the second gutsy performance by the team and they are going to need more of those down the stretch as the playoffs approach.

Eskimos Defeat Western Rival Lions

Mired in their second three game losing streak and facing the second place B.C. Lions on 13 days rest, the home town Edmonton Eskimos were facing an uphill battle Friday night.  Languishing in fourth place and trailing both Winnipeg and B.C by six points and eight points respectively, this game was pretty much a must win if they were going to make the playoffs.  This game was going to be the last at home for six weeks and the team definitely wanted to out with a win before playing the next four games on the road.

Things did get off to a very good start for the Eskimos as they fell behind 14-0 in the first minute of the second quarter.  The Lions looked like a well rested team while the Eskimos looked like a team that had played four games in 19 nights.  Despite falling behind by two touchdowns, the team responded with a strong second quarter and clawed their way back into the game.  Both Mike Reilly and Shakir Bell had strong first half’s helping the Eskimos pull to within a single point at half time.  It was a back and forth battle which would set up an equally intense second half.

In the first half both offenses had success moving the ball up and down the field; however, the second half was a different story.  The defenses played much tighter and points were much harder to come by.  Despite the difference in their records, these two teams are closely matched and it was going to come down to whoever could execute better.  The Eskimo defense has not been the kind of unit that has had a lot of success shutting down the opposition, but on this night they would answer the bell.  The Eskimo defense did not give up a touchdown in the second half.  Conversely, the Eskimo offense controlled the ball and that was reflected in the time of possession.

Make no mistake about it; this was a huge win for the Edmonton Eskimos.  Even with the win, the team still finds itself in a position where they cannot afford to lose any more games if they want to secure a playoff spot in the Western Conference.  Many will point out that the Eskimos currently have the cross over spot in the Eastern Conference, but historically that has not led to a lot of success.  If the Eskimos are going to successfully defend their championship title, they will have to do it from the West.

Eskimos Lose Three In-A-Row

Despite having a 1-9 record, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are not a bad football team.  The Riders have improved over the last number of weeks and you had to know it was only a matter of time before they found the win column again.  As an Eskimo fan, I was hoping that was not going to come this week.  With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeating the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, the Eskimos found themselves six points back and pretty much having to win this week to even have a chance to catch either Winnipeg or B.C. before the end of the season.

Games played in Regina in September often involve a stiff wind and that is exactly what we got this week.  The Roughriders had the wind in the first quarter which meant the Eskimo defense was going to have to stand tall and make sure the team did not fall behind.  Adarius Bowman had a huge first quarter with 86 yards receiving which helped the team escape with a 3-3 tie.  I was hoping for a very productive second quarter but ended up very disappointed with the result.  The Eskimo offense managed only two field goals and those points were wiped out by a 55 yard interception return for a touchdown by Ed Gainey to leave the score tied 9-9 at half time.  Statistically, the Eskimos controlled the game in the first half, but it did not show on the scoreboard.  It has been an underlying problem for the team this year and it continues to happen.

The Eskimos got the ball and the wind in the third quarter and I was hoping the offense would come alive and take control of the game.  While they did manage a touchdown to make the score 16-9, I was not confident that was a big enough lead and that turned out to be the case.  The Eskimos were outscored 11-3 in the fourth quarter which left the teams tied at the end of regulation.  For a brief moment, the Eskimos looked like they were going to lose this game in regulation.  Mike Reilly threw an interception which gave the Riders the ball at midfield.  On the final play of the regulation time, the Riders lined up for a 58 yard field goal (aided by a strong wind), only to have the home team take a time count violation that took them out of field goal range.

The first overtime had both teams with the wind at their back.  The Eskimos only managed three yards which left it up to Sean Whyte to make a field goal (which he did).  The Riders then took their turn on offense and they moved the ball quite effectively down to the seven yard line before Darian Durant scrambled for the winning touchdown.  It was a devastating loss for the Eskimos and it appears that the only way this team is going to get to the post season is through the Eastern Conference.  It has become evident over the past month that while this is talented, they do not appear to have the heart or the desire to repeat as champions.

Eskimos Swept by Stampeder’s

I was hoping for a better outcome this week as the Edmonton Eskimos hosted the Calgary Stampeder’s in the Labour Day rematch.  After getting smacked around last week in Calgary, it was even more important that the Eskimos win this game.  With the home crowd behind Edmonton, the team got off to a good start and showed Calgary they were not going to go ‘quietly’.  A 104 yard touchdown pass on the first offensive play of the game from Mike Reilly to Derel Walker gave the Eskimos a very quick 7-0 lead.  The next step was for the defense to step up and make it difficult for the visiting Stampeder’s.

Calgary did not look much like the team that jumped out to a first quarter 18-0 lead last week as they struggled on both offense and defense. Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Edmonton looked like a completely different team moving the ball with relative ease and building a 14-0 first quarter lead.  Things got a little more settled down in the second quarter as both teams exchanged field goals giving the Eskimos a solid 17-3 half time lead.  Mike Reilly threw for 265 yards in the first 30 minutes while the defense only gave up a lone field goal late in the second quarter.  Things looked pretty good for the home town team; they just needed to continue with the same focus and execution that staked them to a 14 point half time lead.

If there is one thing that has been alarmingly common this year for the Eskimos, it has been their inability to play 60 minutes.  It showed yet again this week as Calgary outscored Edmonton 17-3 in the second half and force overtime!  For a brief moment, it looked like the Eskimos might pull a last second field goal to win the game, but Sean Whyte missed the 52 yard attempt on the last play of regulation.  This was a very tough loss for the team to take.  You could sense the frustration in Jason Mass’ voice in the post-game interview.  He used many of the usual clichés and the teams situation was compounded by the fact that both John White and Calvin McCarty left the game in the fourth quarter effectively removing any chance that the Eskimos could run the ball leaving them with a one dimensional attack.

There was one bright spot on the defense and it was the play of Philip Hunt who has signed earlier in the week.  The former NFL’er (and Winnipeg Blue Bomber) did get pressure on the Bo Levi Mitchell and got the only two sacks of the game.  While the Eskimo defense did keep the Calgary running game in check, they failed to stop Bo Levi Mitchell who threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns leading his team in defeating the current Grey Cup Champions.  Despite the fact they are the defending champs, the team has not lived up to their own expectations and I am not sure Ed Hervey is finished tinkering with the personnel.  The Eskimos announced on Tuesday afternoon the signing of WR/R Troy Stoudermire to the practice roster, which is going to put the pressure on incumbent returner Kenzel Doe moving forward.

 

Eskimos Thumped by Stampeder’s

The arrival of the Labour Day game signals the start of the second half of the CFL season and the first time the Eskimos and the Stampeder’s meet.  Edmonton was on a three game winning streak while their provincial counterparts were on a six game winning streak.  By the end of Monday afternoon, one of those streaks was going to end.  Both of these teams have explosive offenses and this matchup had all the makings of an ole fashioned shootout!  The Eskimos had not won in Calgary since 2011 and they were looking to change those fortunes.  With the Eskimos sitting five points back in the standings, this was not a game they could really afford to lose.

The first quarter was quite close with only a field goal separating the teams with about four minutes remaining.  But things quickly unraveled for the visiting Eskimos as a number of errors resulted in an 18-0 deficit.  It started with a punt that was fielded by Kenzel Doe that should have been left to go into the end zone for a single.  Instead, the Eskimos started deep in their own territory and punted it right back to the Stampeder’s.  Grant Shaw’s punt was only 27 yards and when the Stampeder offense took the field, they were already in Eskimo territory.  It did not take long for Bo Levi Mitchell found the endzone with a pass to Anthony Parker.  During the convert, an unnecessary roughness penalty resulted in the Stampeder’s kicking off from their own 50 yard line.  With a stiff breeze at their backs, the ball went into the end zone which resulted in a single point (11-0).  The Eskimos then went a quick two and out and had to punt the ball back to Calgary.  The Eskimos did not cover the punt very well as it was returned 85 yards for a touchdown and an 18-0 first quarter lead.

The Eskimo offense was not moving the ball and the defense could not stop the Stampeder offense.  Calgary scored another field goal to make the score 21-0 before the Eskimos finally found the end zone.  A 36 yard pass from Mike Reilly to Derel Walker made the score 21-7 and the ensuing kickoff resulted in a single to make it 21-8.  The Stampeder’s responded with a drive of their own that resulted in a field goal making the score 24-8.  The Eskimo offense showed glimpses of getting on track but Mike Reilly was intercepted in the red zone.  Right before half time, Bo Levi Mitchell was intercepted by Kenny Ladler who returned the ball for a TD to make the score 24-16.  The momentum had changed very quickly and this was a golden opportunity for the Eskimos to take back the momentum.

With the wind being a significant factor on Monday afternoon, the Eskimos chose the wind in the fourth quarter.  The Stampeder’s would start the second half with both the ball and the wind and the defense would need to step up to keep to Calgary from getting even further ahead.  While they did give up a touchdown, it was late in the third quarter.  Heading into the final 15 minutes, Edmonton was down 31-17 which was not ideal, but they were still in the game.  The Eskimos moved the ball deep into Calgary territory when Mike Reilly threw his second interception of the game in the end zone snuffing out yet another scoring drive.  To make things worse, the Stampeder offense put together a touchdown drive making the score 38-17 and you could feel the game slipping away.

The Eskimo defense really did not have an answer for the Calgary offense as they rolled up 502 yards to Edmonton’s 320.  Reilly had a meager 219 yards passing and the running game was not particularly effective either.  To the teams credit, they did not throw in the towel and were able to find the end zone with just under four minutes left to make the score 38-24.  But like they have on many occasions this season, the Calgary offense responded with a touchdown of their own to restore their 21 point lead.  Overall the Eskimos have to be disappointed with their effort as they were outplayed in all three aspects of the game.  When that happens, you are not going to be successful very often.

The team does not have much time to think about the loss as the two teams go at it again this Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.  There is really no time to significant changes to the game plan and instead will focus on execution and playing a full 60 minutes.  A couple of areas of concern is the protection of Mike Reilly and the lack of pressure they got on Bo Levi Mitchell.  If they are not able to do these two things, the result will likely be the same.  The loss leaves the Eskimos in fourth place in the Western Conference behind both Winnipeg and the B.C. Lions.  After the rematch the Eskimos will have played 8 of their ten home games which means they are going to have to be ‘road warriors’ to put themselves in a position to host a playoff game this season.

Eskimos win Three in a Row

It was military appreciation night Friday at Commonwealth Stadium and the pregame fly-by of a couple of CF-18 hornets from CFB Cold Lake got the crowd and home team fired up early.  While the Eskimos have had their struggles early in the season, the past couple of weeks have seen the team begin to turn things around.  On a ‘modest’ two game winning streak the Eskimos were looking to extend that at the expense of the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders.

As the Eskimos prepared for the game, it became clear quite quickly that RB John White was not going to be available.  He had injured his finger the week before against the Argonauts and was not going to be available this week.  That meant that Shakir Bell would get his first action of the season and he would explode right out of the gate.  The Eskimos had a big first quarter putting up 17 points and took control of the game.  The Roughriders had a tough time keeping a lid on Bell as he rushed for over 70 yards in the first 15 minutes.

The home team built up a 22-0 2nd quarter lead and appeared to have things well in hand.  With time running out in the second quarter, the Riders finally put together a scoring drive to make the score 22-3 at halftime.  With the home team having a comfortable half time lead, I wondered how the second half would unfold.  The Riders got the ball to start, but there first couple of drives did not produce any points.  The Eskimos’ offense was also not as effective as they had been in the first half and it was clear the Riders had made some adjustments.

Ironically, the tide of the game turned when the Riders sacked Mike Reilly for a safety early in the third quarter to make the score 22-12.  It was part of an unanswered 16 point run for the Roughriders that brought them to within three points (22-19) by the end of the third quarter.  It was now time for the offense to take back control of the game and they responded to a Rider touchdown with a touchdown of their own to restore the 10 point lead.  You could feel the fans breath a collective sigh of relief, but anyone that is a fan of the CFL knows that no lead is really safe.

An Eskimo field goal 6 minutes into the fourth quarter made the score 32-19, but the Riders would not give up!  They pulled to within a converted touchdown with just under three minutes left in the game which made the home crowd a little nervous. The Eskimo offense had a couple of opportunities to put the game away in those final minutes…they just could not do it.  Both teams exchanged punts and the Riders had one last chance to tie the game with 19 seconds on the clock.  The Eskimos sacked Durant back at the Rider 27 yard line, but on the very next play, he hit Naaman Roosevelt at the Eskimo 53 yard line with one second left in the game.  This set up the final play which ended up being a shorter pass to Roosevelt and than a lateral to former Eskimo Shamawd Chambers who ended up being tackled well short of the endzone.

While the game resulted in a win, it was closer than it perhaps should have been which has been a common theme for the Eskimos this season.  With 10 days to prepare for the big Labour Day series against the Calgary Stampeder’s they are going to have to be much better if they are going to win either of the next two games.  These next two games will decide if the Eskimos are even going to have a shot at first place.  With the Eskimos five points behind the division leading Stampeder’s, they cannot afford to lose either of these games.