Gut-check time for Esks

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:24 AM ET

EDMONTON - If the Edmonton Eskimos end up qualifying for post-season play for the 53rd time in 62 seasons, it’ll be difficult to find a playoff run that’s been less impressive — or more interesting.

With Edmonton’s 16-13 overtime win Saturday over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers followed by Sunday’s 23-17 victory by the B.C. Lions over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it’s all going to go down to the final Saturday of the regular-season schedule.

It’s a double-edged doubleheader which, if the Lions beat the nothing-at-stake Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, will put all the marbles on the line when the Eskimos go against the Riders at Mosaic Stadium with a do-or-die, win-and-you’re-in game to return the following week to face Gang Green in the Western Conference semifinal.

It would be an Edmonton team that started the season at 0-4 against a Saskatchewan team that has come down the stretch 0-4.

If B.C. makes it, the Lions will have won seven of their last 10 games, with two of the three losses in overtime.

That really would be pick your poison for skidding Saskatchewan.

This is an Edmonton team that coughed and sputtered and herked and jerked its way to five wins in the last six games.

And how do you like this for a re-entry to football, Eric Tillman?

“Well, it’s incredibly energizing, I’ll say that,” the newly minted GM of the Eskimos said after joining head coach Richie Hall in his office to watch the Lions beat the Riders yesterday.

Tillman, who is 5-2 in his time on the job, heads to Regina where his wife and kids remain until the end of the school year, for a very interesting return to town.

Or maybe two returns.

Obviously, the Eskimos would have preferred to have it put away so there wouldn’t be a Ricky Ray Watch to see if the No. 1 quarterback can play or to give the beat-up Eskimos the chance to rest some players.

“Clearly the B.C. win impacts our decision-making process, said Tillman.

“Richie and I had met before the game and spent a lot of time on the different scenarios and what we’d do. I believe in preparing for worst-case scenarios. It’s easier to adapt that way.

“The roster has to be declared 24 hours in advance, so we’ll have those decisions to make this week.

“If Ricky Ray is ready, no problems.”

If not, the Eskimos could be taking Jared Zabransky into a do-or die game in Mosaic Stadium.

This is a guy who has completed 53 of 103 pass attempts. Ten of those incompletions were interceptions — three more than Montreal Alouettes starter Anthony Calvillo has thrown all season.

Zabransky’s quarterback efficiency rating is 41.1. Calvillo is 108.1. Henry Burris is 101.1.

It’s either ‘Get Well Soon’ for Ricky Ray, who took a few throws to check his serratus anterior injury on the weekend and/or ‘Get Ready Now’ for Kerry Joseph.

If Zabransky plays a playoff game the way he played on Saturday, Hall is going to have to go to the bullpen early.

That might mean Jason Maas could be the odd man out.

“We’ll take three quarterbacks. Who they’ll be and how we use them will be a coaches decision,” said Tillman.

For a few seconds there, it looked like Saskatchewan might stage a last-minute comeback Sunday.

“Obviously, everyone in our building was cheering for the Riders (Sunday),” said Tillman.

“And more than a few expletives were ringing down the hall after that late onside kick, since that ruling impacted us ever more than it did Saskatchewan.

“We’ll go into the week expecting that B.C. will beat Hamilton and that the onus will be on us to win.”

As for Saskatchewan perhaps giving QB Darian Durant the game off and resting players, Tillman said he doubts it.

“I don’t think Ken Miller and the guys in that locker-room are wired in that way.

“I’m not buying the line that the game will mean nothing to them. They were one penalty away from winning two Grey Cups in the last three years.”

Tillman then gave it a philosophic twist.

“Maybe it was appropriate to have the day unfold this way,” he said. “Our team has had to overcome so many challenges this year, and next weekend we’ll be certainly be facing another one.

“Saskatchewan is the toughest place to play in our league because those great fans over there are so loud and into each play.

“But, hey, we control our own destiny and who would have expected that six or seven weeks ago?

“Saturday isn’t just a challenge — it’s an opportunity to accomplish something special.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos