- Free Agency
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos already have a playoff berth wrapped up, but on Friday night they’ll look to solidify their spot in the West division playoffs and try and avoid crossing over to the East in a matuchup with the Calgary Stampeders.
The Esks got a huge favour from the Argos on Thursday night, who snuck past the Ticats at home 43-40 on a last-play Swayze Waters field goal, officially earning the Green and Gold a spot in the playoffs.
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But there’s still plenty to play for on Friday, with a chance to move up in the West Division standings and avoid a long trip East to play the red-hot Argos.
Now, they’ll look to get their first win of the season against the division rivals, and prove once and for all that they can beat the Stampeders after failing in three tries so far.
Then of course, with a two-game losing streak, meanwhile, there’s also a focus on momentum heading into the post-season. The Eskimos would like to be playing their best heading into their first playoff game, wherever it’ll be played.
“Our objective was to get into the post-season and to get into the post-season playing good football. (Friday) is an opportunity for us to turn the tide in terms of continuing on in the fourth quarter against Montreal and to play good, solid football and go into the post-season.”
Still, the Argos’ win on Thursday means plenty of changes for the Esks as they go into their final regular-season game. Injured players can now rest up and young players who haven’t seen the game time they’d like to have this season will get an opportunity.
That starts at quarterback, where Reed said Kerry Joseph would take a back seat to backup Matt Nichols. Nichols was tantalizing in a fourth-quarter rally that he led on Sunday in Montreal against the Alouettes that gave the Eskimos a chance to win a game that they’d lagged behind in all day.
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“There will definitely be changes with the quarterbacks,” the coach said. “That’s one thing that we definitely will do. We will probably be playing Matt Nichols more. We will get him as many reps on his arms and legs as possible, so we have a good evaluation of him.”
With the Argos having already clinched their home playoff game, Ricky Ray sat out Thursday’s game. Hamilton lost to a collection of Toronto’s second, third and fourth-string quarterbacks, despite a furious fourth-quarter rally that saw them come back from 14-points down to tie the game.
The result had to be a huge relief for the Eskimos and their fans. It avoided what would’ve been a tense situation on Friday, giving Calgary a chance to eliminate their provincial rivals.
Suddenly, in a season that’s had no lack of adversity for the Green and Gold, the team knows there will be more football, no matter what happens this week.
Considering what they’ve battled through so far this season, bouncing back for a deep playoff run isn’t out of the question.
All three quarterbacks – Nichols, Steven Jyles, and Joseph – have received extended playing time as the team spent a good part of its season looking for a starter at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the team also survived a five-game losing streak, going winless in September for the first time in franchise history before and managing to get the season back on track to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Esks followed up back-to-back home wins over Saskatchewan and Hamilton, a stretch in which they outscored their opponents by a combined 72-40, with losses to BC and Montreal.
In last week’s 27-25 loss to the Alouettes, a valiant comeback attempt came up just short, after coming back from a 19-1 first-half deficit to lose on a failed two-point conversion on the last play of the game.
But the Esks have bounced back from quite a bit worse this season, and now they’ll look to do the same heading into the playoffs.
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Jon Cornish rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Matt Nichols struggled for the Eskimos in his first career start as the Stamps rolled to a 39-15 win over their provincial rival at McMahon Stadium. Kevin Glenn was impressive in the win, completing 21 of 28 passing attempts for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns, meanwhile receiver Joe West had a career game with 135 receiving yards.
The Stamps, meanwhile, are in a similar position when it comes to having a playoff spot locked up, and looking to build momentum.
Last weekend’s home game against the Lions was also apparently meaningless going in, but it didn’t stop the Stamps from surging to a 41-21 win over the Lions, with Kevin Glenn, Drew Tate, and Bo Levi Mitchell all throwing a touchdown pass.
The Red and White hope to have full momentum heading into the playoffs, and would love nothing more than the chance to eliminate their biggest rival in the regular season finale.
Winning is clearly a priority on Friday, but at the same time, so are staying healthy and avoiding falling into sloppy habits prior to the upcoming home playoff game against either Saskatchewan or Edmonton.
More than anything, the Stamps don’t want to mess with their current state of mental well-being.
“Whenever you win a couple games in a row, it kind of changes the mindset of your team,” suggested veteran linebacker Malik Jackson. “You kind of expect to win, as opposed to it being up in the air or even some teams that go out expecting to lose.”
“It’s just that good mindset, that good vibe of everyone knowing we’re a good team, and no matter what happens, if we’re down, if it’s a close game, whatever, we have that confidence and we know we can get the job done.”
Friday’s victory, regardless of the Lions’ performance, was a step in the right direction from those standpoints. The Lions had beaten the Stamps in their past four meetings, and hadn’t lost at McMahon since 2009.
“I think it was important to step out there and inspire fear — show them that we’re something you have to be firing on all cylinders for, and they can’t rest or take it easy,” said defensive tackle Brian Bulcke. “And I think we did a good job of that.”
Having said all that, the Stamps will be smart about how they approach the game. Coach and GM John Hufnagel wants to give his starters plenty of playing time to stay sharp, but conceded on Saturday that he might substitute more freely than is normal as the game goes on.
As for the quarterbacking, he continued to be coy, only confirming that both Kevin Glenn and Drew Tate would get significant playing time, and continued to stay mum on the likely starter for the West semi.
“I think you know me better than that,” said Hufnagel with a smile. “What’s changed from last week? They both threw a touchdown pass and we won the game.”
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