It's crunch time

Edmonton Eskimos' QB Ricky Ray winds up to pass during team practice at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton,...

Edmonton Eskimos' QB Ricky Ray winds up to pass during team practice at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday November 9, 2005. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

Make no mistake, Frito-Ray delivers.

He always has.

Throughout his rise from potato chip truck driver to quarterback of the Edmonton Eskimos, Ricky Ray has demonstrated an incredible knack for showing up when it matters most.

As if his 34-15 career regular season record isn't daunting enough, the third-year chucker is two-for-two at getting the Eskimos to the Grey Cup and 1-1 in the big game.

Yet, despite his record, his talented receiving corps, the balance of having running back Troy Davis at his disposal and a record-setting season for pass completions, all the talk heading into today's West semifinal is about his Calgary counterpart, Henry Burris.

"They've obviously earned it and are one of the hottest teams in the CFL but I try not to look at that," said Ray, 26, written off by Edmonton's media for throwing one touchdown and seven picks his last six outings.

"That's just part of the job. I've been on both ends of it.

"We've been feeling it quite a bit this year because we've been up and down all season. It's just part of playing for Edmonton. There are high expectations for the city and the team and you've got to try and meet those expectations. That's what's great about playing in a city that cares."

All Edmontonians care about is that a return to Ray's early-season heroics gives their club the biggest chance to reverse overwhelming momentum that has Calgary as five-point favourites at McMahon Stadium today.

"They can get rid of all the demons if they win a football game," said Stamps head coach Tom Higgins, who 'discovered' Ray three years ago as Edmonton's head coach. "I don't think there's a team in the CFL that wouldn't want Ricky Ray on their football team. He's a dynamic, young quarterback that has so many upsides. All you have to do is put together 60 minutes and win a football game and who cares whether you throw a touchdown -- it's about the 'W.' We are preparing that he's going to be hot."

So is Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia, who bristled when asked if a poor start meant Ray would quickly be replaced by Jason Maas.

"I'm not talking about if he struggles -- Ricky Ray will play well (today)," said Maciocia, whose showdown with mentor and friend Tom Higgins has also been overshadowed by Burris' brilliance. "In a lot of people's eyes, Ricky's struggling because in the last few games he hasn't been able to throw for a touchdown. But I think as an offence we're struggling. For the most part he's played pretty well -- he's won 11 games. He's got a pretty good record as far as winning games and I expect he'll come out and light it up."

So does Stamps d-lineman Rahim Abdullah, a former Esk who watched Ray work his magic his first two years before the pivot tested the NFL in 2004.

"In six weeks he's thrown one touchdown but how many games have they won? Four, right? So whatever they're doing is working," said Abdullah, shrugging off the fact Calgary has dominated the last 10 quarters against Edmonton, which includes six Ray pickoffs.

"Ricky is a big play guy. He's a PTPer -- Prime Time Player. He's one of those unrattleable players, if that's a word. A lot of guys you can hit late or call him something after the play and it'll mess up his game. He's not that type of guy. He's consistent and he's been pretty much unbeatable in the big game."

The chips are down once again for Frito-Ray, which makes it hard to believe he won't come through in the, um, crunch.


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