October 15, 2006

Eskimos left out in cold

Loss to Argonauts ends 34 straight years of post-season appearances

By Vicki Hall,
Edmonton Journal

The Edmonton Eskimos penned the obituary for their 34-year streak in the playoffs Saturday with a 28-25 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

Down by three with 1:14 left on the clock, Esks quarterback Ricky Ray threw his second interception of the day and watched helplessly as cornerback Bryon Parker sprinted 75 yards to the end zone for a Toronto touchdown.

Esks receiver Ed Hervey walked slowly in a trance to the sidelines, took off his helmet, picked up a cup of Gatorade and fired it down the bench in disgust.

A crowd of 39,553 at Commonwealth Stadium — many of whom weren’t born the last time the Eskimos missed the playoffs 35 years ago — shared Hervey’s pain.

“I never thought I’d be a part of the streak ending,” Hervey said. “The streak was like your little brother. You wanted to look out for it, no matter what. And we let the opportunity slip.”

Oh sure, the Esks marched down field and Ray ran in for a touchdown with no time remaining. But the fireworks exploding in the end zone seemed more like a 21-gun salute to mark the death of the streak — a record in North American professional sports.

So, yes it’s true. For the first time since 1971, there will be no playoff football in Edmonton. The run of success is a thing of the past.

“We’re just not a good enough team,” veteran Esks kicker Sean Fleming said, delivering the epitaph for the group that will go down in the CFL history book for all the wrong reasons. “We just

didn’t do the things we needed to do to win games.”

At the final gun, the corks on champagne bottles no doubt popped open in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Edmonton loss cemented playoff spots for the Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Argos, who had already clinched their post-season berth, improved to 10-6 and moved into sole possession of first place in the East.

“You feel like we failed, and we did,” said Ray, who completed 27-of-48 passes for 332 yards, one touchdown to Jason Tucker and the two picks. “You definitely don’t want to be the team to end the streak.”

The Eskimos looked like they might actually prolong the streak from the opening kickoff Saturday.

A sack by rookie Brandon Guillory pinned the Argos deep, and kicker Noel Prefontaine conceded a safety.

On the first Edmonton possession, Ray marched the ball all the way to the Toronto 23, only to throw a pick in the end zone to Parker.

“That early interception kind of slipped our momentum away,” Hervey said. “You’re in a tough ball game with a good team, and you need to create your own opportunities. And tonight, we didn’t do that.”

It’s not like they failed to try. In the first quarter, the Esks attempted an on-side kick on a field goal, and Mike Bradley touched the ball, only to have it squirt away. In the third quarter, Mike Maurer snapped the ball to Bradley on a punt, and the cubic tailback rushed within inches of the first-down marker off the fake. Toronto took over on downs.

“It looked to me like we made it,” Bradley said. “According to what I’m hearing from TV sources, we made it. We got a bad spot.

“We were close — again. That seems to be the summary of our season. It seems like in other years both those plays would have gone in our favour. Close, but not close enough.

“We’re not getting the bounces.”

With Edmonton leading 10-7 in the third quarter, the ball bounced out of the hands of kick returner Tony Tompkins in the shadows of the Eskimos goal posts. Mike O’Shea recovered and Andre Talbot caught a nine-yard pass from Damon Allen to put the Argos head 14-10.

It was a lead they never relinquished. Early in the fourth quarter, Arland Bruce slipped behind coverage and reeled in a 28-yard touchdown pass, and the

Eskimos simply couldn’t recover.

Jason Tucker scored a touchdown with under four minutes to set up the latest failed Edmonton attempt at winning in the final minute.

“You definitely don’t want to be the team that ends the streak,” Ray said. “But then again, I’m just proud that I was part of the streak — part of those 34 years.

“It just shows how amazing that streak was. It sucks to have it come to an end.”

The Eskimos sink to 5-11 with two meaningless games remaining against the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“It sucks to be on the list of guys who were here when the streak ended,” said Edmonton defensive back Donald Brady. “But it ain’t going to kill me.

“I will rise again. We will rise again.”