“What he accomplished this year with all those young players was just a tremendous job. He changed the mentality. And while that game was maybe a bit out of control, you can’t say they had any quit,” said Buono.
In the end, the Eskimos had to concede the obvious.
“The B.C. Lions were the better team,” said Reed. “Their execution was better and they protected the football.”
Reed wasn’t going to call the season a triumph by going from out of the playoffs to the West final.
“I’m not going to say that. This season is incomplete. I told our players I was proud of them, but after (Sunday night) the 2012 season starts. We have a very strong core and most of them are under 30 years old.”
Ray, who tossed three interceptions on a day when Reed said he threw the ball to where his receivers were supposed to be, said the bottom line is that they’ll be gathering to empty the content of their lockers into green garbage bags Monday.
“We came up short. Give them credit. They’re just a solid team all the way around. And they did just a great job of putting pressure on us all night.
“I think this would sting more if it was a close game and we blew it. But we just got outplayed. We’re trying to build on this. We’re just going to have to come back and use this as motivation.”
Adarius Bowman said that’s the way it has to be.
“Hopefully next year we can get back to this game and be able to say we’ve been here before.”
The Eskimos, in many ways, were beat before this one began.
There was a major mismatch going in which B.C. doubled down on to make it even more of a mismatch.
As expected the Eskimos patch-work offensive line, which has seen 13 different members this year, couldn’t handle the rush from the Lions CFL all-star-studded front seven.
Buono wasn’t satisfied with that.
He closed practices twice during the week so nobody would see the intent to rotate six fresh defensive lineman through the mix against the Edmonton offensive line.
But the flip side of it was the real killer. While Edmonton’s front seven did a decent job against the Lions offensive line, it all came unraveled on the back end with big plays against the likes of Jykine Bradley, Rod Williams and Donovan Alexander.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” said defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler. “You can’t do that against B.C.
“We fed their game plan. We left a lot of plays out there.”
With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers punching their ticket to travel here this week with a chance to end the longest drought in the league — dating back to a 50-11 victory over the Eskimos here in 1990 — the league has it’s second-ever B.C.-Winnipeg Grey Cup game.
The Bombers scored a 22-21 win over the Lions in the 1988 Grey Cup in Ottawa.
In the end, the Eskimos loss won’t be remembered long.
Wally Buono’s Lions are the story, the whole story as they prepare to play a Grey Cup game with a chance to become the first team to win it at home since the 1994 Lions (versus Baltimore) and only the second team since the Montreal Alouettes beat the Eskimos in the famed Ice Bowl “staples” game in 1977.
The Lions, a team which lost their first five games and the went 11-2 the rest of the way, including a 43-1 whupping of the back-to-back Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes in the final game of the regular season, proved themselves to be for real this day.
Or maybe better stated — unreal.
Travis Lulay looked like a veteran quarterback as he handled the heat and exposed the Eskimos secondary.
If it weren’t for all the train wrecks involving teams playing in Grey Cups in their own city, you might make the case that the Lions won the Grey Cup here Sunday.