O’Leary: Harris channeling inner Ricky Ray

As the completions piled up and Trevor Harris inched closer and closer to history, Jason Maas looked out on the field and saw something familiar.

It was Maas that had set the consecutive completions record, back in his playing days in Edmonton when he made 22 straight passes in a game. Maas was on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium as the Esks’ head coach in 2016 when Jeremiah Masoli took the record, making 23 straight.

On Sunday, Maas stood on the sidelines in Montreal, watching Harris dissect the Alouettes’ defence in the Eastern Semi-Final. Playing in just his second game in almost two months, Harris was rested, ready and methodical. He spread the ball around, finding eight different pairs of hands on the day, but leaning heavily on his favourite target, Greg Ellingson.

You could watch Harris work on Sunday and say that he channeled the other two quarterbacks that he was closing in on in the record books, but that’s not what Maas saw. Harris got all the way to 22 consecutive completions and finished the game making 36 of 39 passes for 421 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His 92.3 per cent completion rate broke his own playoff record, set last year when he played for Ottawa.

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In a history-making day on the football field, Harris looked a lot like the guy he came into the league backing up in 2012. He looked like Ricky Ray.

“Trevor reminds me of Ricky all the time, quite often,” Maas said at the podium after his Esks had downed the Alouettes 37-29.

“Just in the way Ricky could surgically…go out there and execute a game plan and dissect defences, Trevor has that same ability, he’s that good. How many games now is he over 80 per cent completion?

“That’s very hard to do in professional football and he’s done it many times. He’s also done it in big games a few times, like Ricky. They’re both very similar in the way they approach the game, the style they’re playing. A pocket passer that can throw it where they need to put it and accurate in every throw they make.”

Harris’ lone touchdown pass came as part of a shootout of a second quarter. Running back from a pair of Alouettes’ defenders, Harris threw from around the 15-yard line to the back of the end zone, where a waiting Calvin McCarty pulled in his second touchdown of the year. It was Harris’ 20th consecutive completion.

“Cool, calm, collected,” McCarty said of Harris’ play. McCarty said that Ray has been around the team a few times this year. He played with Ray at the start of his career, from 2007 through 2011.

“It’s that quiet competitor. (Harris) reminds me a lot of Rick but at the same time he has his own flavour,” McCarty said.

Harris said that he wasn’t paying attention to the numbers while he was on the field, but he knew that the offence was getting a lot of completions.

“Anytime you play for Jason Maas, you’re going to have the capability of having big games like that,” Harris said. “He’s a mastermind in terms of things he does, him and Jordan (Maksymic, the Esks’ offensive coordinator). It’s a blessing to play for him and for Jordan and with a great bunch of guys.”

 

The challenge will ramp up for Harris, as he tries to lead Edmonton into uncharted territory. No crossover team has ever made it past the division Final. The Esks will take their shot when they go into Hamilton on Sunday to face the 15-3 Tiger-Cats.

“You can’t get into your steps until you take step one,” Harris said.

“We’ve just remained in the moment, regardless of where we’ve been. These last few weeks and ever since we’ve clinched (a playoff spot) it’s been all about ‘What’s the best thing we can do to become the best team we can come playoff weekend?’ Hopefully we just continue ascending and just taking things one day at a time.”

The Esks lost both of their games to Hamilton this year. There was a 30-27 decision on Sept. 20 in Edmonton that was followed by a 42-12 Ticats win in Hamilton on Oct. 4. Harris missed both of those games, thanks to the injury he had in his throwing arm. The last time he faced the Ticats was in last year’s Eastern Final when he was a member of the REDBLACKS.

Harris was 29-of-32 in that game, for 367 yards while throwing six touchdowns. Ottawa won 46-27 to advance to the Grey Cup.

“It’s going to take our best, we realize that,” Maas said of the challenge in front of his team.

“But I think if you ask anyone in that locker room, they all believe it’s possible. We all know that there’s a recipe. We’ve got to believe it first, we’ve got to work hard and plan it. Then we’ve just got to go out there and execute like we did (on Sunday).

“Be opportunistic, make the plays that are there. Ultimately it comes down to that that belief and hard work and that plan and I think our guys understand we are capable of it.”