There was a significant sigh of relief coming out of Commonwealth Stadium last night.
If a mid-season contest for a 5-3 team could be considered a must-win, this was it.
This was a game of redemption for the Eskimos and they found it."We really needed a win," said Esks defensive back William Loftus after a 36-26 decision over the Montreal Alouettes before a season-high crowd of 44,624.
"We were coming off two straight losses. These games are the ones that count towards playoffs. It was frustrating losing those games. We all take pride in our jobs."
Pride was the underlying issue for head coach Danny Maciocia - not escaping from the heat of back-to-back defeats and questions about whether this team had the makings of a winner. This was about restoring a positive vibe.
"I'm a proud individual just like a lot of people around here, and we want to win," said Maciocia. "It's not a question about coaching the most prestigious team in the CFL. It's just a question about being proud.
Sean Fleming's kicking woes continued in the first quarter, but his foot wasn't to blame. Fleming's blockers blew an assignment allowing Matthieu Proulx a free shot at the block and Rob Brown recovered the ball on the Eskimos' one. Mike Vilimek burst over one play later to give the Alouettes the lead.
Fleming redeemed himself on his next punt which sailed out at the Montreal one and Randy Spencer put the grasp on Anthony Calvillo to force a safety. After stopping the Als for the second time on third and short, the Esks kept a drive alive on third-down gamble and Ricky Ray followed up by hitting Jason Tucker for a 22-yard scoring strike.
The Ray-Tucker connection lit the Als' defence up early in the second quarter with a perfect toss down the sidelines for 84 yards. Ray mishandled the next snap, but scooped up the ball and rumbled over from four yards out.
Eric Lapointe brought Montreal closer with a three-yard TD run, but the Esks took a 19-14 edge into the half when Hayden Epstein, on his first attempt in the CFL, booted a 34-yard field goal.
This time the Esks put the hammer down in the second half - punctuated by a killer hit from Loftus which he then followed with an interception.
"We wanted to start early and play often. We did that and we got a great result," said McClendon, who got the Esks' beleaguered ground game in high gear after the Als tied things up midway through the third.
Ray and Tucker renewed their act with two catches that racked up 60 yards, leaving McClendon to break off an intial tackle and get the Esks in from two yards out.
McClendon then played set-up man as his 20-yard break left Ray to find ex-Alouette Kwame Cavil for a five-yard score.
"We played with a lot of passion and intensity. I'm just wondering what would have happened if we hadn't turned over the ball,"said Maciocia. "Someone in the media (Team 1260's Bob Stauffer) told me we'd win by 20 and I'd have to say he was almost right."