VANCOUVER — The Edmonton Eskimos took advantage of a fourth quarter interception return touchdown from Joe Burnett, handing the Lions a 27-14 loss to move into a tie for first in the West in front of a stunned crowd at BC Place.
With the Esks ahead 19-14, Travis Lulay had the Lions down at the five yard line and within striking distance, but was picked off by Burnett at the goal line and had it returned 106 yards for the score.
It was one of two interceptions for Burnett in the game, as the Eskimos took advantage of better field position and the two costly turnovers to give the Lions their first loss since moving into a newly-renovated BC Place in 2011.
Hugh Charles played a major role in a successful game for the Esks offence, which sustained long drives with an efficient passing attack as well as a reliable rushing attack. The second-year running back had 179 all-purpose yards on 23 touches with a touchdown in the win.
Andrew Harris was also impressive in the loss, especiallly in the first half, after he rushed for 48 yards on five carries and also contributed in the passing game with 70 yards on seven receptions through the first two quarters. He had 118 of BC’s 194 yards of first-half offence, helping the Lions escape with the lead despite losing the field position battle for most of the half.
Harris finished with 185 yards on 20 touches, including 120 receiving yards.
The Lions moved the ball well on their first drive, but with a chance to punt the Esks deep in their own end, Paul McCallum shanked the kick and the Esks took advantage with great field position on their opening drive.
Steven Jyles and the Esks’ offence responded, as the 29-year-old showed poise and accuracy on a charge into Lions territory. But the drive stalled and instead of opting to try a 52-yard field goal, they’d send out the punting unit and pin the Lions at their own 15 yard line.
But with second and long and deep in his own end, last year’s Most Outstanding Player wasn’t fazed, first completing a pass to Nick Moore to move the chains before getting a pass interference call to move the Lions out of their own end of the field.
Then it was Harris’ turn, as the 25-year-old took a shovel pass from Lulay and got help from a nice block on the outside, bruising his way for a 28-yard gain. Lulay would then convert on a second down with his legs, while a facemask call tacked on an extra 15 yards.
Lulay then rolled out and hit Marco Iannuzzi on the sideline, and the 25-year-old powered his way toward the goal line and was tackled into the end zone to give the Lions the game’s first points. The scoring play capped off a 10-play, 95-yard drive that took 4:50 off the clock.
The Esks responded with some fancy footwork by Hugh Charles, as the second-year Eskimo moved the offence quickly into Lions territory, threatening to tie the game. But on second and just a few yards down inside the 10 yard line, Charles was stuffed, forcing Grant Shaw on to kick a 14-yard field goal.
With the Lions up 7-3, both teams moved the ball but not enough to get points on the board, making field position the main focus through most of the second quarter.
The Esks continued to win the field position battle, and it would finally pay off with the Lion pinned deep in their own end. On a second down play, Lulay was flushed out of the pocket and appeared to be trying to get the ball to the sideline, but it floated dangerously in play on a jump ball.
Athletic Esks’ cornerback Joe Burnett out-battled the receiver to make the play on the ball, coming up with the interception for Edmonton’s 10th forced turnover of the season. That set Jyles up with his best starting field position of the day, but the Esks’ starter was contained, leading to another Esks field goal.
The Lions would hang on for a 7-6 lead heading into halftime despite being disadvantaged in field position through most of the night, but in the second half the action picked up, starting with a 43-yard kickoff return from Burnett on the first kick.
After a 25-yard completion for Jyles, the running game would take over from there, as Charles picked up a key first down before Lions’ veteran defensive back Kory Banks was flagged for pass interference.
That set the Esks up at the five yard line, and Charles wasted no time taking advantage, scoring from five yards out for his team’s first touchdown of the game.
If the Lions were going to respond, it would have to be with a long, methodical drive, after once again being pinned back in their own territory at the 19 yard line. Lulay made it look easy, however, completing four straight passes for 70 yards.
Charles and Harris run wild
The two starting running backs combined for 364 all-purpose yards on 43 touches, providing the majority of game’s offence on Friday night.
From there, it was the physical, down-hill running of Harris that would get the Lions to their final destination, as he’d get his first score of the game on a powerful run from two yards out to get his team the lead back, 14-13.
The Esks fought right back though as Jyles continued to show the same kind of efficiency as when he completed his first seven passing attempts of the football game. A 39-yard pass to Dobson Collins would eventually set up a 15-yard chip shot for Shaw to give the Eskimos the lead for the second time in the quarter, 16-14.
After a quick stop by the Esks defence, the offence would get a crack at extending the lead, taking the field ahead in the game for the first time. This time though, it would be backup quarterback Kerry Joseph who would have to lead the charge, after Jyles had been shaken up on a hit by linebacker Anton McKenzie on the previous drive.
Joseph picked up where Jyles left off, completing a 26-yard pass to rookie non-import Shamawd Chambers, who made a tight-rope catch and run along the sideline to move the offence into Lions territory. A 23-yard completion to Charles, who continued his dominant night, moved the Esks down to the 13 yard line.
But Khreem Smith was able to get to Joseph for a sack on a second down play, forcing Shaw out for yet another field goal from close range to put the Esks ahead 19-14.
The Lions fired back quickly though, showing sudden urgency as Lulay struck on four straight passes for 66 yards, moving his offence down to the Esks’ 5 yard line and in position to score. But as the Lions moved closer, disaster would strike.
Lulay tried to squeeze a tight pass in on the goal line to Simon, but Burnett jumped the route and hung on for the pick, using his speed to take it all the way to the other end zone for a highlight-reel 106-yard interception return touchdown.
The Esks would add a late single, as the defence stood its ground to hang on for the 27-14 win to improve to 3-1 on the season and move into a tie for top spot in the West.
Lulay finished with 360 yards passing and a touchdown, but was also picked off in the loss on 28-38 passing. Jyles, who was replaced by Joseph in the fourth quarter after being injured, finished with 10 completions on 16 attempts for 150 yards.