THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos will be without linchpin running back Jerome Messam when they face the B.C. Lions on Sunday with a berth in the Grey Cup on the line.
The 26-year-old running back tore the meniscus in his left knee in a violent collision in last weekend’s win over the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Semi-Final.
Messam, walking in on crutches, confirmed Tuesday that an MRI has revealed the tear, which will keep him out for the rest of the season.
“I’m disappointed, obviously,” said the six-foot-three, 245-pound back from Brampton, Ont.
“I wanted to be able to help my team, but it’s unfortunate that I have an injury so I can’t.”
He was knocked out in a helmet-to-knee collision in the third quarter of the Eskimos 33-19 win at Commonwealth Stadium.
Messam caught a swing pass and was moving upfield when Calgary defensive back Demetrice Morley dove in helmet first, twisting Messam’s leg and sending him cartwheeling to the turf.
“When I got up and tried to hobble off the field the adrenalin’s going and I didn’t really feel the pain,” he said.
“When I went home it swelled up a little bit so I had to get the MRI.
“I stayed optimistic, but the results came back that I had a tear.”
Messam wouldn’t say if it will require surgery, but said he wants to get the rehab going immediately.
“Right away, whatever will be done to fix this will take place. The sooner the better.”
It’s a double blow for Messam.
He came to the Eskimos in a pre-season trade after he wore out his welcome with the Lions for fighting with teammates, going half-speed in practice, and smuggling a girl into his training camp dorm.
“It’s tough,” he said of the missed opportunity to play his ex-teammates.
“But that’s the way it worked out.”
In Edmonton, Messam embraced the second chance this season and proved to be the perfect blend of speed and power. He ran for 1,095 yards on 195 carries for six touchdowns.
He was the first Canadian back since Sean Millington in 2000 to run for more than a thousand yards.
He sparked an Eskimo team that missed the playoffs in 2010 but this year finished second in the West at 11-7 and is travelling to B.C. for Sunday’s West Division Final.
“An important piece of our team is gone, but that’s the nature of football. Life goes on,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed.
“I’m concerned about Jerome’s recovery and the health of this team moving forward.”
Reed said fullback Calvin McCarty and running back Hugh Charles, a late acquisition from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will step up to fill in for Messam.
Neither has the running ability of Messam, but Reed says he considers them better pass catchers.
“We feel they’re very competent backs,” said Reed. “The trade for Hugh Charles was in case we had a situation like this with Jerome being down, so good foreshadowing.”
Charles said he’ll be ready.
“Jerome is more (straight-ahead) downhill. I can take it downhill but more outside and a little more shifty.
“I’m a vet. I’m not brand new to this league or to the game. I know what to expect and what teams are going to bring.”
The 25-year-old from Oklahoma made his Eskimo debut Oct. 29 against the Lions at B.C. Place
He rushed for 33 yards on six carries and caught two passes for 46 yards in a 29-20 loss.
In Vancouver, Lions defensive back Tad Kornegay said the Lions won’t be changing their game plan now that Messam is out.
“They are more of a passing team (anyway),” he said. “They know what they have in their receiving corps.
“We have to scout the backs that haven’t been in the game more (and) look at some old films so we see their tendencies. Other than that the game plan will be the same.”
The hit has stirred up debate on what is fair game on the gridiron.
Some, like B.C. receiver Geroy Simon, have said the helmet hit was a cheap shot.
“I thought it was a cheap play,” he said.
“I don’t know if the DB meant to do it, but it’s something I would never do.
“Even if a guy is bigger than me, if he don’t see me coming I’m never going low.”
Reed, a former defensive back, disagreed.
He said when a freight train running back is bearing down on a lighter defender, going for the legs is often the only way to bring him down.
“It was not a dirty hit,” said Reed.
“To make a tackle on a big guy you gotta go low.
“It’s a football play. If we (the Eskimos) cry wolf about it, we’d be culpable, too.”