MONTREAL — There was doubts surrounding the Edmonton Eskimos heading into the playoffs. With starting quarterback Trevor Harris on the six-game injured list down the stretch, the team managed to clinch a spot in the postseason with backup Logan Kilgore leading the offence.
Harris had a chance to return in the closing weeks of the year, and after playing in just a handful of quarters since Week 13, the 33-year-old pivot was in top form in the Eastern Semi-Final, helping the Esks to a 37-29 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday afternoon.
Harris was flirting with history in the first half of the contest, completing 22 consecutive passes for 254 yards and a touchdown toss to Calvin McCarty in the second quarter.
If he had completed his next pass, he would have tied Hamilt0n Tiger-Cats pivot Jeremiah Masoli for most consecutive passes completed in a game.
“I think Trevor would tell you it doesn’t come from just one guy doing it; It happens with the other 11 guys,” head coach Jason Maas said post-game. “The multitude of people we had playing on offence today did their part. Our O-line, again, kept (Harris) clean and able to make his reads, and when he has time to throw it and can see it, he’s as good as anybody at dissecting a defence.”
Harris’ dominance continued throughout the game, as he finished completing 36 of 39 heaves for 421 yards and a major.
“I think I was just getting comfortable with the timing and everything in this offence,” said Harris, who casually shrugged off his massive performance. “Anytime you’re playing for Jason Maas, you’re going to have the opportunity to have big games like that.”
Harris managed to get eight different players the ball in the first half, but his favourite targets on the day were Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins Jr. Ellingson hauled in a game-high eight receptions for 125 yards on the day. Not to be outdone, Collins finished with six catches for 117 yards.
It was also a big day for C.J. Gable, who was making his first start in over a month. Gable rumbled in for Edmonton’s first two scores of the game, finishing with 54 yards on 14 carries.
Coming into the game, the question was how the Esks’ defence would be able to slow down Vernon Adams Jr., who proved to be a formidable force through the air and on the ground this season. They were able to get to the pivot on two occasions and pick him off three times. All three of those interceptions were hauled in by Josh Johnson.
With the Alouettes still down by just a single score in the closing minutes of the game, Johnson went up in a group of four individuals and yanked the ball down and proceeded to sprint to the sideline to celebrate with his teammates.
“When we were stalling in the second half as an offence, our defence picked us up,” Maas said. “Obviously getting turnovers at the end of the game was huge and we were able to close it up and finish it there. It takes a complete team effort to win a playoff game an I was proud of the whole group.”
Next up is the Esks’ toughest task of the campaign, as they head to Tim Hortons Field in a week’s time for a meeting with the league-best Ticats, who haven’t lost a game at home this season.
Edmonton travelled to Hamilton back in Week 17 for their final game of the regular season against the Tabbies. They were on the wrong end of the scoreline in that outing, as the Ticats won by 30 points. Despite that, anything can happen in the playoffs.
The Eskimos are motivated to do something that no other crossover team has been able to accomplish: Reach the Grey Cup game to force an all-West final. Maas famously said “Why not Us?” in the lead up to this contest. Now, the Esks will use that as a rallying cry in their quest to make a run to the championship.
“The tide rises when we all rise and that’s what it’s all about. Why not us? Is there any reason? I don’t think so,” Harris said. “I think we have a team that is good enough to do whatever we set our minds to. Obviously, it’s going to be no easy task. Coming into Montreal, which is a difficult place to play, and then going to The Hammer, where nobody has won this year.
“It’s not going to be an easy task but that’s not going to stop us from putting our best foot forward and doing everything we can.”