Still a chance for Edmonton

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

CALGARY -- Six weeks ago it seemed like the Edmonton Eskimos were facing an impossible task.

The B.C. Lions were 11-0 and had an eight-point lead in first place in the West Division.

The Leos seemed like a lead-pipe cinch to keep first place and the 7-5 Eskimos had no chance of catching the Leos.

But looks can be deceiving.

Thanks to three consecutive Edmonton wins, a shocking Lions slump and a very improbable Saskatchewan win against B.C. last night, the Eskimos can grab first place and a first-round playoff bye with a win today against the Calgary Stampeders.

"It's what we wanted," said Edmonton receiver Ed Hervey.

"Now we have an opportunity to get the Western final in Edmonton and that has been one our goals.

"At the beginning of the season, most people probably thought it was a longshot and at times it appeared that way, but after B.C. lost, the opportunity is right there in front of us."

LIONS HAVE LOST SIX OF LAST SEVEN

The Lions have lost six of their last seven games, including the setback to the underdog Riders 13-12 last night in Vancouver.

Yesterday's game meant nothing to the Riders. They couldn't change the fact they are heading east to battle Montreal in the first round of the playoffs, so backup quarterback Nealon Greene was handed the starting assignment.

It seemed like just another reason why B.C. could win for fun.

Given the off-field distractions surrounding news of Trevis Smith being HIV-positive and the Riders entering the tilt on a three-game losing skid, a Saskatchewan loss was expected.

But after not playing for more than two months, Greene led the Riders on the game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.

The Riders victory means nothing to the Eskimos if they can't win today. In fact, an Eskimos loss this afternoon would mean B.C. would finish first, the Stamps finish second and the Eskimos would finish third.

REVERSE A TROUBLING TREND

In order to avoid that, the Eskimos have to reverse a troubling trend. The Stamps have practically owned Edmonton during the last six quarters.

Since halftime of the Labour Day tilt, Edmonton has scored just one touchdown against Calgary. Furthermore, the Stamps repeatedly pressured quarterback Ricky Ray in the second half of that game and the entire 60 minutes in the rematch the following week.

But the Green and Gold didn't have running back Troy Davis in the lineup - and he could be the difference-maker today.

"If we can get Troy off to a good start it just gives us more weapons to use," said Ray, who's confident a solid running game will open up the passing game.

And the Stamps are well aware of Davis's importance.

"Really it all starts from there," said defensive tackle Sheldon Napastuk of stopping Davis. "They have had a lot of success with Troy getting them those four to six yards on first down, which makes second down easy."

Davis is averaging 92 rushing yards a game since arriving from Hamilton. Besides running the ball, Davis will also play another crucial role in helping spark the offence - pass-protection blocking.

Besides being widely recognized for being able to pick up pass rushers, Davis also packs a punch.

Just ask John Grace, who was blindsided by Davis with a knockout blow earlier this season. While with Hamilton, Davis hit Grace so hard he busted the linebacker's face open. Grace had a nasty cut across almost his upper lip and had difficulty speaking properly after the game.

"I think he isn't going to come in there fast like that (today). He's going to have his eye on (me)," said Davis.


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