It's Friday night fright

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Eskimos 41, Renegades 16

Maybe the fence-sitters still trying to decide whether to buy $99 Renegades season passes only saw the first quarter of last night's opener.

Those who watched the entire game will have to put their faith in improvement. They'll have to believe Ottawa's offence is going to get better that it was in the 2005 lid lifter against the Edmonton Eskimos.

It certainly can't get any worse.

Frighteningly, a Renegades line minus injured import starting left tackle Reggie Nelson surrendered seven sacks -- and the visitors got precious little done with the ball on the rare occasions Kerry Joseph's safety wasn't in danger -- while being pasted 41-16 by the Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium.

"Unfortunately, we didn't come out the way way wanted to," said Joseph. "It's Week 1, we've got to correct our mistakes and get ready for next week."

The offence, in fact, didn't score a point until Joseph hooked up with Jason Armstead for a 54-yard major with just over 51/2 minutes to go in the game. That solidified player of the night status for Armstead, who had Ottawa's only other touchdown on an 87-yard punt return in the second quarter.

The loss, in front of 36,912 witnesses, was the 18th in a row by an Ottawa team in Edmonton.

Tough to blame it on a defence that played well early but clearly was worn down from all the time it spent between the sidelines.

Two poor decisions by officials on the Eskimos final drive of the first half helped the home team a backbreaking touchdown and a 19-9 lead at the intermission.

Edmonton increased the margin by seven and sealed victory when Ricky Ray hit Jason Tucker with a 20-yard scoring pass on its first drive -- aided by a couple of Renegades penalties --- of the third quarter.

The Renegades lost middle linebacker Keaton Cromartie for the night when he suffered a mild concussion 12 minutes into the game. He was replaced by Jason Kralt.

Greg Marshall's defence did a great job in the first quarter. It held the Esks to a 10-yard Sean Fleming field goal when Armstead fumbled on his first punt return of the season, at the Ottawa five.

It stopped Ray on a third-and-short keeper, giving the offence the ball on the Edmonton 40. And it registered its first sack on the final play of the quarter -- a joint effort from Cam Legault, Jerome Haywood and Kai Ellis -- to put an exclamation mark on 15 minutes of work well done.

The score at the end of one -- Eskimos 3, Renegades 1. Ottawa would have been in much better shape entering Quarter 2 but for two small details: The offence, and kicker Matt Kellett, pretty much sucked.

Kellett was wide left on his first two field-goal tries from 42 and 33 yards, and somewhere, Bjorn Nittmo's palms were getting itchy.

The only significant play the Renegades made with the ball in the first quarter was a 41-yard run up the middle by Josh Ranek.

The Renegades gave up only one sack in that first quarter -- when Joe Montford led a charge past rookie left tackle Marc Parenteau that Cedric Scott finished off -- then surrendered two more on the initial series of the second quarter, and yet another at the end of the half.

"It was a tough night," said Joseph. "Their defensive line is pretty good. You saw the game."

Aside from a sensational punt return for a touchdown by Armstead that more than made up for his earlier fumble, the breaks started to go against Ottawa.

Ed Hervey showed why the Renegades desired him when he outjumped and outwrestled Korey Banks for a Ray pass on the Ottawa one, setting up a touchdown dive for his QB on the next play.

Still, the Renegades were only trailing by three, 12-9, until a last-minute Eskimos scoring drive that was aided by two poor calls.

On the first, Bo Rogers ripped the ball from the hands of Eskimos receiver Trevor Gaylor, who was ruled down by the officials even though Hugh Campbell himself would have said he was not.

Given another chance in scoring territory, Ray hit Tucker with a 19-yard pass in the end zone that replays clearly showed should have been called incomplete. Instead, the men in stripes allowed a touchdown that pulled Edmonton ahead by 10 points 28 seconds before the halftime gun.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com 


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