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October 22, 2006

Golden moment for Goldie

McClendon scampers for 198 yards, leads Eskimos to impressive win over Als

By Vicki Hall,
Edmonton Journal

Perhaps the Edmonton Eskimos of 2006 aren’t noxious weeds after all.

“We may look like dandelions,” said communications director Dave Jamieson. “But we are, in fact, a beautiful flower. The rebuilding project starts now.”

Too bad the Eskimos took so long to bloom. For the first time all season, the Green and Gold actually resembled a thing of beauty Saturday with a 30-20 dismantling of the Montreal Alouettes.

The Alouettes (9-8) are playoff bound. The Eskimos (6-11) are one week away from packing their belongings in garbage bags.

But at least the Green and Gold gave their faithful reason to believe for next season — along with cause to turn down the brightness on their television screens thanks to their blinding third jerseys.

“I’m excited,” said Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia. “I have a lot to look forward to. This hasn’t been an easy year, but I can’t find a better group to be surrounded with.”

Ron (Goldie) McClendon set the tone for the afternoon by ripping off carries of eight and 24 yards on the opening drive. Ricky Ray plunged one yard for a touchdown to give Edmonton a 7-0 lead six minutes into the first quarter. Not bad for a team that’s averaged three points in the opening frame all season long.

Through 60 minutes Saturday, McClendon scampered for 198 rushing yards — not bad for a guy who sat out the entire year behind starter Troy Davis.

The pint-sized back vaulted into the end zone with three minutes remaining in the second quarter to give the Esks a 14-3 lead.

“I was almost in tears, man,” he said. “You guys know how hard I work in practice. I’m so excited right now.”

The golden performance should help McClendon in his other job in the Eskimos’ ticket department.

“Hey guys. Please call me for season tickets,” he said, flashing his golden teeth at reporters. “Call 448-Esks. Ask for Goldie.”

McClendon isn’t the only reason for optimism in the CFL’s northern outpost. Third-string quarterback Steven Jyles moved ahead of Jason Johnson on the depth chart and marched the Eskimos 75 yards down field to score the first touchdown of his CFL career.

Not bad for his first drive as a professional football player after a year of apprenticeship behind Ray.

“He made a lot of great decisions, got to the one-yard line, punched it in, and came to the sideline,” Maciocia said. “I looked over at Ricky and said, ‘Not even you have done that.’

“That’s his first game — his first series. He goes in and scores. So that wasn’t too bad.”

Neither was the run blocking by the much-maligned offensive line — not to mention the protection for Ray and Jyles.

“Next year, if those guys are still together, they might be the best offensive line in the Canadian Football League,” McClendon offered. “They’re awesome.”

He looked over at a scribe who hasn’t played football since high school and laughed. “I think you could have got 60 rushing yards tonight,” McClendon said.

That’s not likely. Regardless, the holes were there Saturday thanks to the grunt work in the trenches by Dan Comiskey and his crew.

Jyles completed four-of five passes for 36 yards. Ray played the rest of the game and completed 16 of 20 passes for 152 yards on a rather quiet outing for the CFL’s leading passer.

“Any time they made a big play, we answered with a big play,” Ray said. “It seems like all year long when things went against us, we didn’t respond the way we did tonight.”

Kerry Watkins and Ben Cahoon caught touchdown passes from Calvillo, who completed 28-of-50 passes for 342 yards and an interception. Sean Fleming made two-of-four field goal attempts. Damon Duval kicked two field goals for Montreal.

Before the game, Montreal cornerback Davis Sanchez said the Eskimos’ swagger was missing in action without him in the lineup.

So what happened to Montreal’s swagger on Saturday?

“We played with no energy,” said Sanchez, who was traded to Montreal in the off-season. “We were flat … We couldn’t beat my high school team without energy.”

It’s too late to salvage the season, but the Eskimos walked (no swagger detected) out of Olympic Stadium feeling content with their effort.

The crowd of 45,637 filed out of the building with sore vocal chords after booing their team for much of the game.

“This shows we still have fight left in us,” said Edmonton linebacker Singor Mobley. “And look at Goldie. He could have had 200 rushing yards, but he

didn’t for some reason. Maybe he didn’t want to run through a person or something like that.

“He had fresh legs, and maybe he’ll sell more tickets now.”