It's freeze-framed ugliness

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

REGINA -- Playoff tickets went on sale here this morning. No word on the Grey Cup parade route, but a picture of the 2004 Saskatchewan Grey Cup ring was hanging from a dressing room wall last night.

That could be called a classic case of putting the plow before the tractor. But it's been so long since fans left Taylor Field so over the harvest moon like they did last night, can you blame them?

If you want to play the blame game, the Eskimos present a much more deserving target.

Thanks to salvaging a final five minutes in which they scored two touchdowns, the Eskimos prevented the Roughriders from clinching second place and their first home-playoff game since 1988.

EMPTY EFFORT

But as a result of the Eskimos' exceptionally empty effort for the first 55 minutes, the defending Grey Cup champions are headed home with the possibility looming even larger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 33 years.

It's been a fractured football season for head coach Tom Higgins' team, but this was the capper as the Eskimos, after ending a three-game losing streak against Montreal last week, went back into the crapper.

Jason Maas was an upper-case goat in a ghastly game. He was also the lower-case hero of the game within the game.

I mean, how do you write this?

It was a huge game in -1 degrees C temperatures with a 35-kmh wind and there was evidence higher than the pile of snow in the corner of Taylor Field that the Eskimos froze.

They did enough in the last five minutes to salvage the possibility of still finishing second despite the disaster.

Because two late touchdowns resulted in losing by "only" 24 points, the Eskimos won the season series, which would come into play if the Eskimos win against Winnipeg Sunday in Commonwealth Stadium and Saskatchewan loses their final game of the season in B.C..

Lose to Winnipeg, however, and the Eskimos would need Calgary to beat the Bombers the following weekend for the Eskimos to make the playoffs.

A team which won the Grey Cup right here last year couldn't have looked less like a title team. And Maas couldn't have made a much bigger mess.

The guy played like he had popsicles for fingers. Again and again he dropped the ball. Once he dropped it while dropping back.

THROWING SNOWBALLS

There were dozens of fans throwing snowballs at the Eskimos bench. And Maas threw better then than he did before his big plays to Ed Hervey and Jason Tucker to salvage the season series scenario.

Maas tossed four interceptions, two of which were called back on penalties in the cold weather game he supposedly couldn't wait to play.

He said he was looking forward to playing in a whiteout. He was a blackout.

"Jason is going to have to learn how to deal with the environment," said Higgins who came in from the cold and went right back on the hot seat. "It seemed like we played with a slippery football and they didn't."

For his part Maas was, if you'll excuse the expression, at a loss.

"I can't explain it. I never had a problem before. I did the same spin with the ball I've done 500 times this year," he said of putting the laces in position.

"It fell out of my hands at least five times. And to drop the ball going back to throw ... I've never had that happen before.

"Maybe after the first ball I started thinking about it too much. Maybe it was mental. We played terrible. I had a couple of terrible throws."

Saskatchewan coach Danny Barrett said Maas ought to talk to some old cold weather quarterbacks.

"He should study other guys in the league. There are a few tricks you use when the ball gets cold and slippery. You can do different things. All legal stuff. He should study other guys in the league. People say Ron Lancaster used to stick his hand in a bucket of ice," said the old Calgary quarterback.

'SOME STUFF'

Henry Burris, who spends the off-season in Florida, had no problem at all. He said he sprayed "some stuff" on his hands.

It wasn't all Maas.

The Saskatchewan defensive front owned the Eskimos offensive line.

Mike Pringle rushed for 21 yards and fumbled passes. In net rushing, it was Saskatchewan 193 yards to Edmonton's 15. And Roughrider running back Kenton Keith suffered a concussion early in the game.

"We had a saving grace at the end, but this is a bad loss," Maas continued.

"It reminded me of how bad it was in Hamilton," said Higgins of the previous most miserable game of the season for his team which went 2-7 on the road this year and left a frozen road apple here.

After taking the ball and the wind at their back in the first quarter, the Eskimos could only manufacture a 1-0 lead.

Saskatchewan turned the Esks defence into turnstiles in their quarter with the wind and had a 31-1 halftime advantage.

A QUARTER TO FORGET

"That's the ugliest quarter I've seen in my 11 years here. I can't remember one worse," said Higgins.

"That quarter was the best I've seen since I've been in the league - by any team. And I've been around 21 years," said Barrett.

"Today is what it's all about. We did what we wanted to do today except for the points thing. Who knows what could happen to the Eskimos now. Winnipeg still has a shot. They are not going to go to Commonwealth Stadium and roll over," said Barrett.

He could have added "like the Eskimos did here today."


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