EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Eskimos have a chance to build on their winning streak Saturday night, as they look to cool down the red-hot Toronto Argonauts at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
While the Argos can earn their fourth straight win and clinch a playoff spot in the process, the Eskimos are still a little ways off from that, sitting two points back of the Montreal Alouettes for a potential crossover spot in the East Division.
Yet after a tough start to the season that involved one fourth-quarter heartbreak after another, back-to-back wins over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the Green and Gold believing that this thing is far from over.
That’s particularly the case after last week’s stunning comeback in Winnipeg, during which the Eskimos rallied back from a 20-0 first-half deficit and also scored in the last minute of the game to eventually earn a 35-27 win in overtime.
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Suddenly in Edmonton, it feels as though there is nothing this team can’t accomplish.
“We weren’t going to quit and we weren’t going to be out of it, we just needed to execute play by play,” Head Coach Kavis Reed told Esks.com in regards to last weekend’s win.
Perhaps the early struggles and inspiring late-game surge in Winnipeg will be a microcosm of their season as a whole.
“A tremendous amount of stimulus in the confidence because our guys realize that focusing on the details really matters,” continued Reed. “And not giving up, and understanding that in our league our game will always allow you an opportunity to come back if you leave yourself close enough, regardless of how much time is left.”
“Our focus this last week was on the fact that we were never out of the game.”
After trailing 20-0 following an offensive surge by the Bombers to open the game, the Eskimos appeared to be on their way back following an interception by JC Sherritt and then a score just before halftime.
But just as Edmonton threatened, disaster accompanied the start of the third quarter when Fred Stamps fumbled on a reception, leading to a scoop-and-score for Jovon Johnson and the Bombers.
For most teams, that would have been the time to bow out. This team however fought back, scoring 16 unanswered points including a field goal in the last minute of the game to push the Bombers to overtime.
“The guys on the sideline, there was never any panic or any doubt that we were going to have an opportunity to win that football game,” said Reed. “And that confidence comes from the fact that they’ve worked very smartly in practice, during film session to put themselves in that position.”
The Eskimos took just two plays from Hugh Charles to get on the board in the extra frame, as the veteran runner followed up a 16-yard run with a score from nine yards out in just his second game back from injury.
With starter Max Hall on the bench injured, the Bombers couldn’t move the ball on their next possession, leaving the Eskimos with two all-important points in the standings.
Mike Reilly put up the big numbers for the Esks with 418 yards and a touchdown pass, yet the hero of the day was the steady Charles, who battled through injury to carry the team through difficult situations.
“Hugh just personifies what this football team’s about: resiliency and character and heart,” said Reed of his starting running back, who sparked the fourth-quarter rally after moving the chains on a difficult third-and-two.
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“He wasn’t 100 per cent, that’s obvious, but the way he focused on not the injury and not the embattlement that he had to go through regarding the injury, he focused on just doing the little things right.”
Just as Charles’ play inspired the unforgettable comeback win over the Bombers, maybe such a win can inspire a run back into playoff position for the Eskimos.
Of course, with one of the hottest teams in the league in the Argos coming to town, Reed and the Esks are aware that that can only happen two points at a time.
“Obviously that is our end goal, to put ourselves in a position to participate in the post-season, but in order to get to that goal we have to take it one step at a time,” said Reed.
“The next step is preparing smartly for Toronto, a very tough football team and making certain that we’re doing the little things, and our same mantra continues to be accentuated.”
That mantra, Reed added, is focusing on the details.
“We didn’t do a lot of things well [last week], obviously because we had to dig ourselves back out of a hole, but we have to make certain that details are paramount,” he said. “We address those, get better every weekend, and see where it goes.”
While the Eskimos may be turning heads with their mid-season surge, what the Argos have done out West the past couple of weeks hasn’t gone unnoticed either.
About a month ago, the Argos faced an uphill battle in their 2013 campaign, about to go on the road for four straight without starting quarterback Ricky Ray under centre due to a shoulder injury.
Clearly up to the task however was second-year quarterback Zach Collaros, one of seven quarterbacks to make their first career start in the CFL this season.
The 25-year-old hardly seemed new, leading the Boatmen to a furious second-half comeback over the Alouettes three weeks ago, then once again engineering fourth-quarter comebacks in wins over the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in some of the league’s toughest places to play.
Last weekend may have been the most impressive win this season for the Argos, as they dealt the Stampeders their first loss at home in over a year thanks to a couple of clutch touchdown passes from Collaros to Dontrelle Inman and Mike Bradwell.
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Sunday, August 18, 2013
Toronto 36, Calgary 33
Ricky Ray was nearly perfect once again, completing 30 of 35 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns, as the Toronto Argonauts downed the Edmonton Eskimos 36-33 on Sunday night at Rogers Centre.
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Leading the way is Collaros, who second-year head coach Scott Milanovich said the team is learning more about with each passing week after taking arguably his biggest step forward as a professional quarterback in the second half last Saturday.
“We knew he had the ability to move the pocket and run the football some, but I think what we’re learning is he’s a better pocket passer probably than he’s given credit for,” Milanovich told Argonauts.ca. “So we don’t have to force the movements and we can kind of let him drop back and scramble when the time is right, and make plays and improvise when he needs to.”
“We’re learning, just like we learned with Ricky last year how to tweak the offence to best fit his talents and he’s certainly improved in the last week I felt, I told him he made a big leap last week I thought in the way he played.”
Collaros finished the game with 330 yards on 25-36 passing with four touchdown passes, earning him Offensive Player of the Week honours for Week 13. Meanwhile in his first season getting extended playing time, he’s thrown 12 touchdowns to just four interceptions and boasts a quarterback rating of 105.9.
What might be more impressive than the emergence of Collaros, however, is the team’s ability to win on the road. At 5-1 the Argos have the league’s best record away from home this season, and on Saturday could be about to make history.
Only three teams since 1954 have been forced to play four straight road games, and they had gone a combined 3-9 over that stretch. The Argos are just the fourth team to face that kind of challenge, and have a chance to become the first CFL club to ever play four straight games away from home and win all of them.
While it’s hard to explain the reason the Argos have been so good on the road so far in 2013, if one thing’s for sure it’s that nothing can help a team bond like being together on the road. This week the Argos did something even more unique, opting to stay in the province of Alberta for the week rather than going back to Toronto.
“You definitely bond as a team going into those hostile environments,” said breakout rookie receiver John Chiles. “It definitely brings you closer and definitely makes you a tighter group.”
With Saturday marking the final time the Argos play a West Division opponent this season before settling in for five straight against the East, Chiles knows completing the sweep out West would be a major boost to his team’s chances of claiming a division title this season.
“I think everybody has been buying into the system,” said Chiles on what’s led to the team’s success. “I think the main thing is everyone is staying positive no matter what.”
“We’re not really focusing on the scoreboard, we’re just taking it one snap at a time.”
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 Esks.com/Argonauts.ca