Return of the Esks

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:24 PM ET

It was the biggest kickoff return of Tony Tompkins' career.

It was also the return which may have turned the Edmonton Eskimos' season around.

B.C.'s Carl Kidd said last week that the Lions' special teams unit - nicknamed the 'psycho squad' - would make Tompkins a "non-factor''

But Tompkins had the last laugh, taking a kickoff 86 yards back into the end zone in the fourth quarter yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium, which helped the Eskimos to a 37-20 victory over the formerly undefeated Lions.

The return broke a 20-20 deadlock and came immediately following a 68-yard drive by the Lions to tie the game.

"It was real big play for the team," said Tompkins, who found a seam in the Lions cover team and went untouched into the end zone. "After that play, the team just got motivated offensively and defensively.''

The return proved to be demoralizing for the Lions, who were looking to extend their perfect record to 12-0 coming into the contest.

FELL BEHIND EARLY

The West Division leaders fell behind early to the Eskimos and had to battle back for most of the game, only to see their efforts wasted by one play.

"That was a long, hard-fought drive we had to tie the game up," said Lions quarterback Dave Dickenson. "We felt pretty good, then 30 seconds later we're down by seven again. It shows you how important special teams is and we've had pretty good specials teams all season. But these things are going to happen and it did deflate us a little bit."

The climb was uphill for the Lions from the beginning as the Eskimos came out fired up in front of a crowd of 48,048.

Kelly Wiltshire picked off Dickenson's second pass of the game at the Lions' 30-yard line.

Four plays later, Ron McClendon ran the ball in from four yards out to give the Eskimos the early lead.

The lead was extended by one when Sean Fleming failed to connect on his first field goal since regaining his kicking duties, missing wide right on a 39-yard attempt, forcing the Eskimos to settle for a single.

In the second quarter, a 17-yard field goal by Duncan O'Mahony cut the Eskimos lead to 8-3.

The Eskimos extended their lead later in the quarter, putting together an impressive, nine-play, 85-yard drive, capped off by a 13-yard touchdown strike from Ricky Ray to Jason Tucker.

"I thought the guys really played hard," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia.

"We wanted to come out here and play with a ton of intensity, with emotion and with pride.

"Everyone wants to knock off the guy on top. They've won 11 straight games and nobody has been able to do so, and we get an opportunity and we do so.

"Hopefully it's a building block."

The Lions scored their only major of the first half when the Eskimos secondary bit on a fake end around leaving receiver Jason Clermont wide open down the field. Dickenson found Clermont for a 69-yard touchdown pass.

The Lions added a single and conceded a safety, giving the Eskimos a 17-11 halftime lead.

In the second half, Fleming connected late in the third quarter from 21 yards out, capping an impressive 12-play, 84-yard drive, which began at the Eskimos own 12-yard line.

LOUD CHEER

The field goal gave the Eskimos a 20-12 lead heading into the final quarter and earned the embattled kicker a loud cheer from the crowd.

The Lions tied the game midway through the fourth quarter.

O'Mahony missed a 39-yard field goal, collecting a single. Then on the following drive, Dickenson took his team 68 yards down the field on eight plays, capped off by a four-yard play-action pass to fullback Jason Gavadza.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tompkins took over.

"Once I got my shoulders square upfield, it was all she wrote," Tompkins said.

"I knew I had to get to the zone. That was all I was thinking about."

Following the Tompkins touchdown the Eskimos buckled down defensively and scored on their next two possessions. Fleming hit from 13 yards out and Ron McClendon capped off a late drive with a 15-yard touchdown run.

"This was a very big win for us," said Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray. "We played an all together game tonight."


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