Bottom feeders now top of CFL heap
By GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency
|Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray, left, hands off the ball to running back Jerome Messam during practice at Commonwealth Stadium earlier this week as they prepare to meet the Blue Bombers Friday. (LAURA PEDERSEN/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - They’ve gone from worst to first in a month.
After finishing the 2010 season at the bottom of their divisions, the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers square off for league supremacy as they open their August schedule Friday at Canad Inns Stadium.
The Eskimos ride in on an undefeated streak after opening the season 5-0, just two wins shy of last year’s 7-11 record, while the Bombers have already equalled the four wins they earned through all of last year.
“That’s weird, the two teams that missed the playoffs last year now have the best records,” said Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray. “It just shows you that, from year to year, it can change like that. Even during the course of the season it can change real quick. We were 2-9 at one point last year and we ended up winning five of our last seven.
“You never know in this league, things can turn around pretty quickly.”
The Eskimos are 8-1 in their last nine regular-season games.
“We’ve picked up right where we left off last year,” Ray said. “I think that was good for us to end the season in at least a positive direction. Some of the changes had already been made with the coaches and management so you could see things starting to change even from last year.”
The Bombers, meanwhile, seem to have found a way to win the close ones, rallying back three times with fourth-quarter comebacks this season after losing nine games by four points or fewer in 2010.
“The CFL is a funny league, there is so much parity in this league and so much turnover from week to week,” said Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce. “I don’t think there’s a bad team in this whole league and there’s great football players on every team.
“It’s the teams that can win consistently for 18 weeks that are the good football teams. Winnipeg and Edmonton, we’ve started well, but it is always about where you finish and how you continue to improve.”
Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed has set the bar high for himself in his first season as a CFL head coach after having the duties as Bombers defensive co-ordinator last season.
“I’m very pleased that both franchises are doing very well because both fan bases deserve winners,” said Reed. “It’s a very long way to go to the finish line in the regular season with 13 games remaining and I think both organizations understand this is a marathon in terms of the CFL. No one’s out of it yet, we haven’t really accomplished much, but right now it’s an awesome feeling to have started the way both franchises have started.”
Friday will be the first time Reed will face off against colleague and fellow head coach Paul LaPolice.
“I think the neat thing is last year, I was the youngest head coach. Now Kavis is,” said LaPolice, who turned 41 in June, ahead of the 38-year-old Reed. “He’s been a friend of mine since 2001. We worked together with the Argos way back then.
“I’m happy for him, I’m happy for (GM) Eric Tillman, people from my Saskatchewan days. You knew when those guys got there (to Edmonton), they would do a good job. It speaks to the parity of this league.”
NO SHOWS: Blue Bombers DB Jonathan Heffney, who grew up living with Arkee Whitlock in South Carolina, was preparing to host some of their family members planning to go to Winnipeg to watch them play — that is, until Whitlock was released by the Eskimos earlier this week.