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EDMONTON – After two earlier misses, Grant Shaw was clutch when it counted, hitting a pair of field goals to help the Edmonton Eskimos edge out the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-24 at Commonwealth Stadium Friday night.
The Tiger-Cats showed outstanding resolve, battling all game despite losing their QB Zach Collaros who left the game in the second quarter with an injury after taking a hit from Eskimos DE Odell Willis.
On the second consecutive game of a Western road trip to start the year, the Ticats looked to bounce back after running into an inspired Saskatchewan Roughriders defence that sacked quarterback Collaros 10 times in Week 1.
Early in this game, the Eskimos defence showed little mercy after they held Kevin Glenn in check in their season-opening victory in BC. Defensive back Aaron Grymes had an interception in the win and picked up where he left off last week in this one.
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On Hamilton’s first possession, Grymes got to Collaros, forcing the Ticats to punt and then got his hands on a pass that deflected off of Sam Giguere to record an interception on Hamilton’s next drive.
Grymes’ pick set the Eskimos up in ideal field position and after scrimmaging from the Hamilton 14 yard line, Reilly rolled left and spotted receiver Nate Coehoorn just over the goal line for the games first score – a 3-yard touchdown pass 7:49 into the game.
Last week it was Adarius Bowman who stood out as Reilly’s go-to receiver, hauling in what proved to be the game-winning major as a part of a nine-reception 105-yard performance in Vancouver. Midway through the first quarter this week however, Bowman’s production hit a snag on two consecutive plays.
First, the Oklahoma State product found himself wide open on a post route that would have been a sure touchdown had he not dropped the perfect Reilly toss. The following play, Bowman caught a pass on a screen, ran 11 yards before fumbling. The loose pigskin was scooped up by Hamilton DB Erik Harris who rumbled down to the Edmonton 40 yard line.
The Tiger-Cats quickly capitalized to tie the game. Platooning Collaros with backup Dan LeFevour, the latter got a first down on short yardage, completed an 8-yard pass to SB Luke Tasker before running up the gut on a quarterback draw for the 2-yard touchdown.
LeFevour’s injection into the Tiger-Cats offence is nothing new in his second year under offensive coordinator Tommy Condell’s system. Last season the Central Michigan product earned 317 yards on the ground to go with 7 touchdowns.
The Ticats elected to pull Collaros in favour of LeFevour; what they didn’t plan on was keeping Collaros on the sideline in favour of their other quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the first half, Collaros sustained a hit while releasing the ball on the roll from Willis and was down for several minutes. He was helped off the field and Masoli entered.
The two Ticat backups interchanged on reps, on Hamilton’s next drive setting up a 22-yard field goal by Justin Medlock to tie the game at 10 just after the Three Minute Warning.
Collaros resurfaced in the second half but was in street clothes, his day finished after going 5 of 8 for 53 yards and one interception.
Masoli then took control under centre and immediately got the ‘Cats rolling. First he found Cary Koch down the sideline, who broke a tackle and raced 46 yards into Esks territory. Masoli then connected with rookie Matt Coates for a first down before handing off to CJ Gable who navigated his way into the endzone for a 7-yard major and a 17-10 ‘Cats lead.
Edmonton kicker Grant Shaw pulled his club within four after nailing a 33-yard field goal before the team’s respective defences traded forced turnovers. It was Hamilton DB Brandon Stewart’s heads up play to jar the football loose that proved the most costly.
The Ticats took over and Masoli led an impressive drive, finding Tasker for 39 yards before hitting Gable on a slant over the middle for the 10-yard reception and his second touchdown of the game.
Masoli’s first touchdown pass of the year put Hamilton ahead 24-13 with 11:37 remaining.
A 63-yard ensuing kickoff return by rookie Patrick Robertson put the Esks back within striking distance but Shaw went wide left on a 37-yard field goal attempt and a rouge was posted on the scoreboard.
The Eskimos defence then made the next move.
On Hamilton’s next possession, Masoli attempted to escape the pocket and had the ball ripped away by defensive back Patrick Watkins who then raced clear down the sidelines for a 50-yard touchdown on a momentum-altering play.
The Esks forced yet another fumble from the hands of Masoli on the next drive and set up a 38-yard Shaw field goal attempt but this time he pushed it just wide right for the rouge. The Tiger-Cats remained in the lead 24-22.
LeFevour spelled Masoli for the remainder of the game in the ‘Cats offence.
With 1:30 on the clock and down by a deuce, Shaw had his chance at redemption. After missing the previus two kicks, Shaw stepped into a 43-yarder and nailed it down the middle to give Edmonton a 25-24 lead. The score was set up by three first downs by Reilly, two of which went to Bowman.
LeFevour and the Ticats offence got back on the field and the Eskimos defence sent the house. Forced out of the pocket, LeFevour threw off his back foot while being flushed and his pass was intercepted by CB Joe Burnett. Edmonton’s forced turnover gave Shaw another chance to put points on the board, hitting a field goal from 15-yards out to extend the lead to 28-24 with just under a minute remaining.
With less than a minute remaining in the final frame, LeFevour was called upon to orchestrate one final try at giving Hamilton a late victory.
Things seemed bright momentarily, as LeFevour promptly found a wide open Koch for a 33-yard gain to bring the drive inside Edmonton’s 20 yard line. Then, on the very next play, LeFevour connected with Grant for gains of six and seven, bringing the Ticats to the Esks’ five-yard line.
But it was too little, too late, as LeFevour fumbled the ball on what was the final play of game, sealing the win for the Ticats.