Crunched by the numbers

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

REGINA -- A group of deep thinkers recently worked out a mathematical formula to calculate Murphy's Law.

The Edmonton Eskimos plugged every variable possible into that equation at Taylor Field yesterday and wound up on the wrong end of a 40-16 score.

A crowd of 30,087 chilled onlookers were on hand to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders cruise to their fifth straight win and clinch a post-season berth in the process.

It was the fourth loss in the last five games for the defending Grey Cup champs, who sport an 8-9-0 record and are not yet guaranteed a playoff spot.

The Esks, who host Winnipeg at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and have the bye in the final week of the CFL season, had a stiff breeze at their back for the opening quarter and could not put one point on the board.

That came off the foot of Sean Fleming, who connected for a 52-yard punt single. Saskatchewan, meanwhile, erupted for 31 points in the second quarter to turn the tilt into a rout.

Edmonton had two first downs in the opening half. One came via penalty. The other came thanks to a five-yard pass from Jason Maas to Ed Hervey on the final play before intermission.

NOW THAT'S BAD

"I've been with the organization for 11 years and there's very few memories of how bad we've played," sighed head coach Tom Higgins, when asked about his team's second-quarter implosion.

"Give credit to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. They executed, we didn't. They scored more points than I can recall."

Riders pivot Henry Burris and running back Corey Holmes each rushed for a touchdown, while slotback Travis Moore made a nifty one-handed grab for another.

Holmes also returned a Fleming punt 66 yards for a quick six and Paul McCallum chipped in with a 19-yard field goal as Saskatchewan erupted in the second quarter and owned a 40-2 lead after three quarters.

"We got a win as a team today and clinched us a playoff berth," smiled Holmes, who got the lion's share of the work in the Rider backfield after Kenton Keith had his bell rung in the first quarter.

"That's what we've played for the whole year, to give ourselves a chance at the Grey Cup. We got it done today and we've shown people the type of team they picked us to be at the beginning of year. We still control our destiny."

The 9-8-0 Riders could have secured second spot in the CFL Western Division had they won by more than 24 points.

The Esks rolled over Saskatchewan 31-7 at Commonwealth in July, and following yesterday's result are tied 47-47 when it comes to total points for and against in the two-game seasonal series.

However, should the two teams wind up tied for second spot, the Green and Gold would prevail over Saskatchewan by virtue of their superior record against divisional foes.

"It's a weird loss," said Maas, who struggled to hold onto the football following the snap from but still completed 20 of 38 passes for 272 yards.

"Obviously, we had something to play for in the fourth quarter. They were playing. It's not like they started a prevent defence and were trying to let us score. They weren't trying to let us score. It was an important fourth quarter for us to score points and get that down to 24."

A 45-yard touchdown toss to Hervey with 3:32 on the clock and a one-yard TD plunge by Maas set up by a 37-yard completion to Jason Tucker allowed the Esks to keep their hopes of second-place finish and a home field advantage in the Western semifinal alive.

"We were making early mistakes," Hervey offered.

"It's mistakes that we seem to be making every now and then. It seems to hurt us. We had the wind. We had the field position.

"Had we scored a couple of touchdowns early, we could have maintained control of this game. You have to give those guys credit, they hung tough.

GOT HOLD OF THE WIND

"They made plays and when they got hold of the wind, they turned it on, scored some points and forced us to fight back and get the points (differential) down to 24.

"It was an ugly game for us and disappointing in the way we lost. I guess we've got to look forward to next week against Winnipeg and leave it all out there."

When Maas wasn't juggling the snap or fumbling the ball, his receivers were dropping the ball.

Saskatchewan defenders also picked Maas off three times, one of which went for naught as the result of an offside call.

The loss was the Esks' fifth consecutive regular-season setback at Taylor Field. On top of winning the battle, the Riders could have won the second-place war had McCallum split the uprights from 38 yards on the final play of the game.

But the kick into the stiff wind out of the southeast drifted wide right of the mark.

"The guys have earned respect playing against the top teams," said Saskatchewan head coach Danny Barrett. "It doesn't matter whether we're at home or on the road.

"We've been in the playoff mode since we were 4-8. That's the bottom line. We've been playing playoff football since we were 4-8 and it's showing right now.

"They stepped up today and responded quite well against a pretty good football team."


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