Friday night’s season-finale with the Calgary Stampeders was supposed to be an elimination game for the Edmonton Eskimos.
Last night, the Toronto Argonauts played host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and with Ricky Ray on the sidelines, managed to pull out a win thanks to a last-second 51-yard field goal by Swayze Waters.
As a result of the loss, the Tiger-Cats were officially eliminated from playoff contention, while the Eskimos saw a little ‘X’ appear next to their name in the standings.
All week long the Esks were expecting tonight’s game to be a “win and you’re in” scenario.
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So now what?
Well let’s start with the fact the Eskimos have lost two straight games. Getting that winning feeling back in the locker room is a very important thing for this football team.
The offence needs to find a way to move the football and reach the endzone.
In their last two games, QB Kerry Joseph hasn’t had the time to create anything on the offensive side of the ball, which has made him more of an erratic quarterback.
Tonight would also be a good night to clean up the mental and fundamental issues.
There have been too many offsides and procedure calls, as well as too many dropped balls by receivers. Tonight, the Eskimos can work on playing a cleaner brand of football.
Collecting their first win against the provincial rival Calgary Stampeders could be another boost to the Eskimos confidence.
The team lost by a combined three points in the Labour Day series and was beaten soundly in Calgary in late September.
There’s no way the Eskimos want to get swept by the Stampeders.
To avoid that reality, the Eskimos defence will need to stop one man tonight, running back Jon Cornish, the CFL’s leading rusher.
He’s lit up the Eskimos to the tune of 436 yards on the ground and is 50 yards away from surpassing Normie Kwong’s record of most rushing yards by a Canadian running back.
It’s a great oppoutunity for the Eskimos defence to give Cornish a rough ride on his way to that record.
The Eskimos are in a very interesting situation tonight. They don’t need to win however, they would like to win.
It also gives Head Coach Kavis Reed the luxury of managing the minutes for some of his key personnel. After the Eskimos clinched a playoff spot, a relieved Reed told the Edmonton Journal’s Chris O’Leary that backup QB Matt Nichols will see plenty of playing time. Kerry Joseph is expected to start, he needs quality reps also.
Linebackers J.C. Sherritt and T.J. Hill have been operating with their fair share of bumps and bruises lately. They may find some time to rest on the bench.
With a win tonight, combined with a Roughriders loss tomorrow, the Esks will finish third in the West Division.
Cue the debate.
Are the Esks better off playing in the West? Or are they better suited to cross over into the East? In the West, you’d have to go up against teams that have had the Esks’ number all year long, earning just one win over the Lions and Stamps this season.
In the East, the Eskimos have played Toronto twice and won once, and have lost both meetings with the Montreal Alouettes.
There’s also the issue of travel, where they would certainly rack up the frequent flyer miles.
The margin of error in the playoffs shrinks down to nothing. Mistakes have to be limited.
Tonight, the Eskimos have a chance to serve notice they’re ready for the pos-season.
NOTES: After missing 13 games with a nagging hamstring injury, defensive end Marcus Howard returns to the lineup. The last game he played was on September 22nd at home vs. the B.C. Lions where he re-aggravated the injury. Left tackle Orrin Thompson has been placed on the 9-game injured list with a knee injury, ending his season. Devin Tyler moves to left tackle and Matt O’Donnell will make his CFL debut at right tackle. Cornerback Rod Williams has been placed on the 1-game injured list with a head injury which will move Joe Burnett from the wide-side corner to the short-side. Defensive back Pete Ittersagen makes his CFL debut at the wide-side corner. Fullback Calvin McCarty is back in the lineup after missing two games with an ankle problem, fellow fullback Darcy Brown comes out.