Esks hope to be home

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

Getting there is half the fun. Winning it is a whole lot of work.

However, holding on to the Grey Cup is all that and more. In the wake of Saturday's 36-33 overtime loss to the B.C. Lions, that scarcely comes as news to the Edmonton Eskimos.

Right now, there's a better-than-even chance the defending champs might not finish first in the CFL's Western Division.

And although it's a long shot, the Green and Gold could wind up finishing third and be forced to play all their post-season tilts on the road.

While most of the Esks remain positive about finishing first and hosting the Western Final on Nov. 14, defensive back Malcolm Frank is all but conceding top spot to the Lions.

"Unless they really break down, I think they've got first place," said Frank. "I think we're going to have to come back here to get to the Grey Cup and win.

"We're capable of doing it. It was a good game again."

Saturday's game was the third and final regular-season meeting between the two squads. Unlike Saturday's see-saw battle under the B.C. Place Stadium dome, neither of the first two clashes went down to the wire.

The Esks' defence that prevailed during a first-quarter goal-line stand had Printers and Co. looking at third and long with time running out on two separate occasions prior to Duncan O'Mahony's three-pointer on the final play of regulation time.

Despite a solid effort, Edmonton's defence came up short when it counted, says middle linebacker A.J. Gass.

"We could have locked them out at the end but we came up short," offered Gass, who demonstrated incredible speed as he came out of nowhere to make a touchdown-saving tackle on Lions' punt returner Aaron Lockett late in the second quarter.

"Nothing is easy in this league, whether you're the champ or not. Teams come out to play. They're all professionals and they're out to win just like we're out to win."

The road to Regina and last November's Grey Cup had its share of potholes according to linebacker Singor Mobley.

But apart from the usual assortment of nagging injuries, the Esks squad that lined up for the season opener was on the field for the Grey Cup game at Taylor Field.

This season, continuity has been a challenge.

Veteran running back Troy Mills went down in the preseason for the year, while stalwart defensive tackle Steve Charbonneau suffered what proved to be a season-ending knee injury during Week 8.

It isn't easy being Green and Gold these days.

"Everybody is gunning for us," Mobley said. "Trying to repeat, it doesn't matter what you're playing, it's always hard - especially when you lose come key players.

"Key guys get hurt. Guys retire and we've got young guys filling big shoes. It makes it a lot harder but we've still got time.

"I think we can bounce back and be where we need to be at the end of the season."

After using a patchwork secondary and going 0-3-0 to start the season, the Esks were able to peek their collective head over the .500 mark for the first time this season with a sweep of back-to-back games in the Battle of Alberta.

Sitting four points back of B.C. in the standings, the 7-6-0 Esks host Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg at Commonwealth Stadium and travel to Hamilton and Saskatchewan before the curtain falls on the regular season.

Not only has the road to the 2004 Grey Cup been riddled with scheduling potholes thus far, it's also potentially something of an uphill climb down the stretch.

"We didn't get the champ's schedule, I can tell you that," Mobley smiled. "They made it hard on us. We had some key injuries early and that didn't help us.

"But we fought through them and we're getting a respectable record. We're fighting hard and we're growing every week."

LATE HITS: Receiver Derrell Mitchell took a shot under the arm during the second half of Saturday's loss and was taken to hospital for x-rays. None of the three x-rays revealed any broken ribs. It was initially feared Mitchell would have to remain in Vancouver over night. However, after returning to B.C. Place Stadium following the game, the slotback was reexamined by the Esks medical staff and cleared to fly home on the team's charter.


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