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Edmonton Eskimos pivot Ricky Ray says criticism from fans and the media is 'kind of like a knife...

Edmonton Eskimos pivot Ricky Ray says criticism from fans and the media is 'kind of like a knife poking into your side.' (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

There is definitely a fire burning within Danny Maciocia and Ricky Ray.

Maciocia's personable and laughter-filled style with the media has temporarily disappeared.

And Ray's calm demeanour now has an edge.

A bubbling Eskimo quarterback controversy and a persistent lack of offensive productivity have started and stoked the flames with Sunday's West semi-final in Calgary on the horizon.

In a rare show of emotion this early before a gameday, the two key members of the Edmonton Eskimos vented their frustration.

"Take a look at (Ray's) record, is that all forgotten?" said coach Maciocia yesterday of his starting QB's resume with the Green and Gold.

"(It's Ray's) third year in the CFL, the first two years he leads us to a Grey Cup appearance. Is that all forgotten?

"Fifty-five hundred yards (this season); broke the (CFL) completion record. Is that all forgotten? Come on ... give the guy a break."

A few minutes later, Ray let loose with his own shots.

'LIKE A KNIFE'

"It seems like we are doing all right coming down the stretch," said Ray of the team's 3-1 record in its last four games, "but every day we come into this locker-room we are getting questions on: 'What is wrong with this? What is wrong with that? How are you going to fix this? How are you going to fix that?'

"That kind of sticks with us; it is kind of like a knife poking into your side.

"Those first two years here we played in the Grey Cup and won it once and everybody loves you. We are in the playoffs again (this year), but everybody hates you."

The feeling now coming from the Eskimo locker-room is the team is eager to take out its frustration on the field.

That won't happen until Sunday, which gives fans more time to keep complaining about what happened last Sunday.

They're riled-up because the Esks gassed a chance to finish first and host the West final by losing 43-23 to the Calgary Stampeders.

The faithful are also mad because the Stamps have owned Edmonton the last 10 quarters, outscoring them 81-39, while Ray has thrown just one TD pass.

With backup Jason Maas coming off the bench last weekend to throw three strikes and a TD in just a few minutes of work, the cries for Maas to start are being heard all the way into the Eskimo locker-room.

Maciocia repeatedly said yesterday that Ray will start this weekend. But the point he was trying to get across was simple: relax.

"Let the boys take the field and let them play," said Maciocia. "Ricky Ray will take the field on Sunday ... and I think Ricky Ray will lead us to victory."

Although he has thrown six interceptions in his last two games versus the Stamps, Ray also has confidence in his ability.

"My confidence level is fine," he said. "But it's tough when you are coming down the stretch and you are going into the biggest game of the year and all people can talk about is: let's yank this guy out of there and give somebody else a shot."

It's ironic compared to last year when fans complained about Maas's performance and wanted Ray to return from the NFL. "It just shows that when things are going well everybody loves you and when things aren't as great everybody hates you," said Ray.

CALLING THE SIGNALS

Maas, like many in the Esk locker-room, doesn't hate the team's playoff chances with Ray calling the signals.

"The guy has won 11 games for us as a starter ... and a Grey Cup," said Maas. "I think with all the media pretty much asking questions and all the fans that are doubting him, I think this is a game where he takes all that in ... and basically proves everybody wrong."

SHORT YARDAGE: Tony Tompkins - who leads the league with four return TDs - was shut out in his effort to be named the West Division nominee for outstanding rookie and special teams player of the year.

"Wow," said linebacker Singor Mobley. Added receiver Ed Hervey: "The voters have decided and sometimes you wonder what they are thinking."

LATE HITS: LB Marcus Winn and practice roster DB Gerald Dixon took reps in the secondary yesterday while regular halfback Shannon Garrett continues to nurse a strained quad muscle. Maciocia is hopeful Garrett will be able to play Sunday ... DE Rashad Jeanty practised yesterday, but is still doubtful ... Crowd noise blared through the speakers at Clarke Park yesterday as the Esks worked on their silent counts.


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