VANCOUVER -- The Eskimos look for their third straight win on Friday night, as they visit BC Place for a pivotal West Division battle with high-flying Lions.
For the Lions, who have just one loss at home in seven games this season, a win would clinch first place in the division and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
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If they're going to do that, though, it will have to be without starting quarterback and recently-emerging Most Outstanding Player candidate Travis Lulay, who is out with an injury. Mike Reilly took first-team reps in practice through most of the week, and get his first career start.
Without Lulay under centre, the Lions would likely still be in good hands with Reilly, who broke a U.S. college record playing for Central Washington with touchdown passes in 46-straight contests.
Reilly's served mostly as the team's short-yardage quarterback for the Lions this season after moving up to number-two on the depth chart in place of departed veteran Jarious Jackson in the off-season, but the young up-and-comer turned heads in pre-season action with three touchdown tosses in a 44-10 win over the Roughriders.
On the heels of a 37-17 win over the Ticats, the Lions have asserted their dominance once again this season and appear to be the Grey Cup favourite heading into the final month of the year. Lulay has played a primary role in that success, and after a performance no one will soon forget last weekend in the Hammer, he's the talk of the league once again.
The Lions’ pivot picked apart the Ticats secondary to the tune of 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 27-34 passing last Friday night, as he seemingly gets better in every game he plays.
“It was a good day at the office,” Lulay allowed the day after the game, shortly after the Leos returned to their Surrey practice facility.
More impressively, one of Lulay’s greatest games as a CFL quarterback came the day after his grandmother died.
“I think that just shows his character,” Lions head coach Mike Benevides said. “He was at his best. He saw everything and everything was clear to him. That performance was something.”
The affair was basically decided in the Leos’ first two possessions when he went 10-for-10 while directing two long touchdown drives.
Those 10 completions went to seven different receivers, including Courtney Taylor, who was playing in his second CFL game; Ernest Jackson who was playing in his seventh CFL game; and Nick Moore, who was playing in his 10th CFL game.
None of them, though, were to Geroy Simon or Arland Bruce III, the Lions' two best receivers who were both out with injuries.
His quarterback rating for the game was 130, and if that number doesn’t register, consider that his rating for the year is just over 101 and the maximum a quarterback can score is 158.3. He also had a touchdown pass called back and at least one bad drop or that number would have been even higher.
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“When you start the game well, it gives the whole group confidence and momentum going forward,” Lulay said. “That was exactly what we hoped for."
“I don’t know. I just had a good feeling going into the game and the rest of the team was the same way. I don’t if all the stuff going on helped me focus but I felt good.”
And that’s about what you’d expect from Lulay. He has many skills. Self-promotion isn’t one of them. But his teammates knew what they’d just seen.
After the game, defensive back Korey Banks stood up in the locker room and said, “We’ve had a good offence around here but I’ve never seen anything like that.”
When you look at the numbers, Lulay doesn’t quite sit atop the league’s leaderboard just yet. But he’s close, and when you ask Benevides, the first-year Head Coach said there’s one area that Lulay has a distinct advantage over the rest: wins.
“What really matter is he’s the quarterback with the most wins,” the Lions head coach said. “There’s no question we are where we are because of him.”
While having Lulay under centre would be preferred for the Lions, there's no question his value is more important in the playoffs. That means the Lions will take all the necessary precautions when it comes to their star quarterback, and if there's any chance playing could risk a more severe injury, we can expect to see Reilly get the start.
For the Green and Gold, the situation is a little more pressing than BC's - although not quite as pressing as it may have been a few weeks ago. The focus in Edmonton is no longer just on getting into the playoffs by means of an East Division crossover, that's for sure.
Last week’s impressive 37-20 home win over the Roughriders gave the Eskimos a four-point lead over the Ticats for the sixth and final playoff spot, but more importantly, moved them to within two points of the third-place Riders.
That’s a very different position from the one the Esks found themselves in a little more than two weeks ago prior to a matchup with the Tiger-Cats, when Edmonton finally snapped a five-game losing skid.
“The energy level is up, and we have a little bit more confidence,” starting quarterback Kerry Joseph explained. “It’s tough when you drop five straight. Now we’ve put two (wins) together.
“We’ve stayed focused, even with these two games we’ve won, because we know we still have a lot of work to do.”
With Saskatchewan narrowly in control of the race for third in the division, the Eskimos are far from conceding a divisional playoff berth but know that a crossover berth would punch their playoff ticket regardless.
That’s something Edmonton could assure themselves of as early as this weekend, with a win over the Lions Friday coupled with a Hamilton loss to Calgary Saturday.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good situation to control our own destiny, and that would be huge to do that this week,” said Joseph.
Leading the team’s re-emergence has been Joseph himself, who in the last few weeks has closely resembled his 2007 self, when he won the league’s Most Outstanding Player honours while leading the Riders to a Grey Cup Championship.
|The last time they met|
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Lions 19, Eskimos 18
Paul McCallum hit a late game-winning field goal to lift the Lions to a come-from-behind 19-18 win over the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. Steven Jyles completed 12 straight passes in the first half to give the Esks an early lead, but in the second half the Lions defence tightened up, while Travis Lulay took care of the rest with 260 passing yards and a touchdown. Andrew Harris was solid for the Lions, grinding out 181 yards from scrimmage on 11 carries and 10 catches. In the fourth quarter, meanwhile, Geroy Simon scored his 100th career receiving touchdown.
In the last two weeks, the 39-year-old has thrown for 639 yards and six touchdowns on 43-68 passing, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Of course, the veteran pivot isn’t one to take the credit for himself, attributing the play of his offensive line for the team’s recent surge – a unit that was oft-criticized over the month of September.
“Tremendous,” Joseph said of his o-line, which hasn’t yielded a sack the last two weeks. “It starts with those guys. You see them finishing blocks, and we’ve been able to do what we’ve done the last two weeks because of those guys.”
“They’ve been battling all year long. They’ve been criticized, and they never get the credit, but you have to tip your hat to those guys.”
Still, the Esks are well aware their playoff fortunes could come via the crossover – something they’ve become familiar with recently.
As one of only two teams to have won a playoff game as a crossover team after securing a 29-21 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2008, veterans like fullback Mathieu Bertrand, who could return from a groin injury as early as this week, say they know it doesn’t matter how you get in, just as long as you do.
“We want to win every game. Every game is like a playoff game, and we want to get the momentum into the playoffs, so if we crossover, we will crossover,” said Bertrand, who along with fellow fullback Calvin McCarty and Fred Stamps are the three remaining Esks from that 2008 team.
“Especially this year, every team can win,” he continued. “B.C. has a good record, but they’ve won a few close games, too, finding a way to win – but if you’re in the playoffs, you never know what can happen.”
The Esks travel to Montreal for a date with the Als next weekend, before closing the season back at home against the Stampeders. If all goes right in the next two weeks, the crossover talk will be a thing of the past and the Green and Gold could be playing for the rights to a home playoff game on November 2.
Either way, though, the Esks know they’ll have to be ready for whatever comes their way after that.
“If you’re in the playoffs with the crossover, or in your division, this year, you’ve got a good chance to win,” concluded Bertrand.
Friday night marks the third and final meeting between these teams this season, with the season series tied at one apiece coming in. The road team won in both games so far this season.
Kickoff is at 10:00 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
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|