WINNIPEG -- Hugh Charles had the game-winning touchdown from 10 yards out, as the Edmonton Eskimos capped off an impressive late-game comeback with a 35-27 win over the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Friday night.
Mike Reilly threw for 418 yards and a touchdown, leading a frantic second-half surge to spoil the Bombers' party, on the same night they honoured former great Charles Roberts at half time during the annual Hall of Fame game.
Max Hall had 253 yards on 18-27 passing to go with a touchdown in just his third career start, but it wasn't enough as the Eskimos won their second game in a row for the first time this season and swept their home-and-home with the Bombers.
After managing just 31 yards of offence and a single first down in the opening quarter of last week’s loss, the emphasis this week for the Bombers was on starting quicker.
Making his third career start, Hall quickly went to work for the Blue and Gold, first finding Clarence Denmark on first down for nine yards before a Justin Boltus plunge on third down to move the chains.
The Bombers continued to go to the air after that, as Hall then found emerging target Rory Kohlert behind the coverage of linebacker T.J. Hill for a 22-yard gain, moving the offence into enemy territory.
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Winnipeg moved the chains twice on second down on a penalty from Odell Willis and a first-down catch from Denmark respectively, before Hall again found Kohlert for a 22-yard gain through tacklers down to the goal line.
Boltus took a one-yard plunge over the goal line on the very next play, capping off a 12-play, 78-yard drive to in 5:28 to give the Bombers an early 7-0 lead in front of the home crowd.
The teams exchanged punts after that, before the game’s next big play came on the defensive side of the ball. With Reilly in the pocket on second-and-long, he lost the handle of the pigskin on contact, putting the ball on the ground.
Bryant Turner scooped up the fumble to give the Bombers possession deep in scoring range, where the offence quickly capitalized. Hall went to the back corner of the end zone and found Terrence Edwards for the 13-yard score, giving the Bombers an assertive 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Two field goals from Sandro DeAngelis at the start of the second quarter put the Bombers ahead 20-0, which seemed to give the Eskimos’ offence the punch in the arm it needed to get back in the game. But a trip inside the 10 was foiled by a Kenny Mainor sack, forcing the Esks to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Hugh O’Neill to break the shutout.
After settling for a single point on a missed 18-yard attempt from O’Neill after that, the Esks finally got their big break on defence. A contested pass over the middle by Hall was bounced directly into the hands of JC Sherritt, whose return set-up the Esks at the 25-yard-line.
Without time to waste, Reilly found Calvin McCarty over the middle for a 13-yard gain, before hitting Bowman on the slant in the end zone for the team’s first touchdown of the night. The sudden turnaround put the Esks back in the game in an instant, as they trailed 20-11 at the half.
It only took one offensive play in the second half for the Bombers to reverse the change in momentum however. On a completion to Fred Stamps, the veteran receiver had the ball poked loose, and Jovon Johnson in his first game as a safety picked up the fumble on the run and returned it 48 yards for the touchdown.
With the Bombers pressing again on offence, the Eskimos had a chance to sway momentum in their favour once again, this time on an interception from Eric Samuels near the goal line.
After a first-down run by Charles, Reilly hit Stamps on a fly pattern for a 42-yard gain to the Winnipeg 34-yard-line, eventually leading to a 35-yard boot from O’Neill to cut the deficit to 27-14 late in the third quarter.
O’Neill added a 46-yard field goal to make it a 10-point game to start the fourth quarter, then on the very next possession the Esks would get the ball back on a fumble recovery by Sherritt.
But as the Esks moved inside the 15 with a chance to make it a one-possession game, Charles was stripped of the ball and Alex Suber pounced for the game’s sixth turnover, this one in the Bombers’ favour.
A quick two-and-out by the Edmonton defence put the ball back in Reilly's hands with good starting field position, and the shifty young quarterback quickly and coolly got to work, starting with completions to McCarty and Chambers.
Then on a third-and-two, Charles moved the chains with a four-yard run to keep the drive alive. After an 18-yard gain on a catch by Bowman, McCarty moved the ball down to the goal line, leading to a 1-yard plunge from Kerry Joseph to pull the Esks to within three points.
The Esks got the ball back again after a missed field goal, but were forced to start under the shadow of their own goal post, eventually having to punt it back to the Bombers with under two minutes remaining.
But the Eskimo defence came through with yet another critical fourth-quarter stop, and this time with under two minutes remaining Reilly took advantage.
The big play came on third down, when the Bombers appeared to have the game sealed up when Reilly squeezed the ball into tight coverage. But instead of an incompletion, the ball was deflected over the defenders and into the hands of Stamps, who quickly turned upfield for a 51-yard gain.
The drive stalled in the red zone after Chambers couldn't hold on to a ball right on the hands, sending the game to overtime for the first time in the 2013 season.
Reilly and the Esks didn't fail to cash in on their momentum, as Charles carried the offence into prime scoring position, before capping off the short scoring drive with a 10-yard dash up the middle. Then with the team required to go for two, Reilly found Chambers who made a tricky catch and pushed through a defender to give the Eskimos a 35-27 lead.
The Bombers had a chance to respond, but were foiled on second down when backup quarterback Justin Goltz was hit and fumbled, setting up a third and very long that the Blue and Gold couldn't convert on.
Charles had 81 yards on 11 rushes in the win, but made his biggest contribution in the fourth quarter with a converted third down, then in overtime with two big runs to put the Esks in the lead.
The Eskimos look to carry their momentum into next week's home matchup with the Toronto Argonauts, looking to make it three straight wins. The Blue Bombers, meanwhile, return to Investors Group Field as they welcome the BC Lions.