EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats are set to square off for the second time this season on Friday night in Edmonton, in a game with heavy playoff implications.
Whoever comes out with the win in this one takes the lead in the East Division crossover race with just four games remaining, which means you can expect a playoff atmosphere for both teams – and especially the fans – at Commonwealth Stadium.
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“This is an important game,” affirmed Ticats Head Coach George Cortez. “We’ve been talking about the last part of the season and what we have to have accomplished.”
“There’s a premium on almost every game played on every week now, no matter who’s playing.
While it’s true that every game is pivitol down the stretch, Friday’s game is the final head-to-head between the Ticats and the Eskimos.
There’s still a month left in the season, but it’s possible this game could be looked at as one that decided the fate of at least one of these teams when all is said and done.
That’s something that hasn’t been lost on Cortez, who cued up a video to conclude the Ticats third day of practice on Wednesday, one that had various football icons such as John Madden and Joe Namath explaining their love of the game.
Cortez indicated that the video was one that he has enjoyed for several years, and felt was worth sharing with his players.
“It reminds me probably why most of us got involved in the game, because it was fun and we liked it,” said Cortez. “It grew into something else as life went on.”
“I did it as a reminder to the guys.”
Whether that has any bearing on the team’s performance on Friday night, we’ll never know. After last week’s 41-28 win over the Alouettes at home, one might even question the need for a motivational video.
The offence matched its best performance of the season, scoring 31 points in the first half and storming out to an early lead in one of the most spectacular offensive displays in recent memory.
Henry Burris finished the night with more touchdown passes than incompletions, going 28-32 for 326 yards and five touchdowns.
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Andy Fantuz, Dave Stala, and Chris Williams each had touchdown catches, while no single receiver had more than 100 yards and six receivers had at least 20 yards.
Meanwhile, Avon Cobourne managed to eclipse the 100-yard mark himself, getting 19 carries while grinding down the Alouette defence in the second half.
Burris is hoping for a repeat performance at Commonwealth Stadium.
“For me, the most important thing is to be able to justify what we did in the past,” said Burris. “To be able to justify this past week’s performance, it’s all about coming out and following it up with another great one.”
“Our big thing right now is to be consistent. I don’t want to feel good this week and then feel sad next week.”
Consistency has been the theme of the season for Hamilton, and on Friday night, the Ticats will get a chance to show they’ve moved past those issues and are ready to be a serious Grey Cup contender.
For the Eskimos, consistency is also the buzzword, especially on offence where they’ll try to ignite a running game that’s been out of its groove for over a month now.
The troubles date back to early August, when the team made a splash by signing former Argos running back Cory Boyd and began deploying more of a two-back system. In September, the Esks also welcomed the addition of Jerome Messam, who returned from a tryout south of the border with the Miami Dolphins.
The last time the Esks had a 100-yard rusher was July 20th, when burner Hugh Charles had 118 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries to go with 61 yards through the air.
Since then, Charles hasn’t even eclipsed the 80-yard mark on the ground, while in the last four games his highest rushing total is 33 yards. Last weekend, he combined with Messam for just 37 yards on 11 carries in a 39-15 loss to Calgary.
If the Esks can find success on the ground again, they could very well get back to the way they played early in the season, when they caught everyone by surprise with a 5-3 record based off ball control and a dominant defence.
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Bakari Grant returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown on the last play of the opening half, and the Ticats never looked back en-route to a 51-8 win at home over the Eskimos. The Ticats led just 9-8 before the block, and in the second half rode the momentum to the tune of 35 points as Burris threw for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Williams led the way with 125 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions, while Avon Cobourne chipped in with 121 yards and a touchdown in the win. All three quarterbacks played in the loss for the Esks, who failed to find the end zone in the final three quarters after jumping out to an early 8-0 lead.
“We’ve got to go get the rhythm and get the momentum started as an offence so that everyone is comfortable,” said Charles, who Head Coach Kavis Reed said this week needs to be getting more touches.
“We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable as an offence to help the defence out. They’ve done a tremendous job this whole season, stopping the opponents,” he continued. “I mean, the defence can only stop a team on so many drives until they’re exhausted.”
The running back has a point, especially considering the fact that the Green and Gold will be without three-time player of the month winner JC Sherritt on Friday, who’s been the heart and soul of the Eskimos defence.
Considering even the best of defences have had their hands full with the Ticats’ potent attack, if the Esks are going to win this one, it’ll require some offence.
And this week, the Esks’ attack will be under new guidance, as earlier this week Reed took over the role of Offensive Coordinator, relegating Marcus Crandell to the quarterbacks coach role.
Still, veteran pivot Kerry Joseph, who gets the start a day after his 39th birthday, said not to expect a revamped offence against the Tiger-Cats – just a more effective one.
“You won’t see many different things,” Joseph said. “Our scheme hasn’t changed at all, just our mindset, the way we want to attack things, that might be a little different.
“But, overall, our scheme is still the same, it just boils down to players executing. We’ve been really fundamentally sound this week. Now we just have to put the plan together (Friday night).”
Schemes and game plans aside, the motivation for the Eskimos tonight is straightforward, given their position in the standings.
“We need to win this football game to continue to be a player in the post-season hunt,” Reed said. “For us, we understand that we are in control of our own destiny.”
First thing’s first, though. A victory tonight would lift the Eskimos past the Tiger-Cats into the crossover playoff berth in the East. Baby steps.
Asked what he wanted for his birthday, Joseph, who turned 39 years of age on Thursday, simplified things more yet.
“A win (Friday night),” Joseph said. “That would be one of the best gifts you could get, to break this five-game losing streak with a win.”
Kickoff is at 9:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from PostMedia and Ticats.ca