Saving the season

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

CALGARY -- Danny Maciocia stopped being stubborn in time to save the season.

With Ricky Ray still struggling and the Edmonton Eskimos losing 23-12, the rookie head coach put his hand on Jason Maas's shoulders on the way to the dressing room at half-time of the West semi-final and gave him the word.

Funny the way the world works.

The two players Danny Maciocia had viewed as doing dirt this year,dug him out of a hole that could have put his coaching career six feet under before it began.

Maas threw three passes all season -- those three while mopping up after the mess the Eskimos made here last week. But he came in and played great in the second half, going 10 for 10 during two touchdown drives and 15 of 18 with the Eskimos' first touchdown pass in six games.

Maciocia put possible future Hall of Fame kicker Sean Fleming in the embarrassing position of being replaced by import Hayden Epstein during his troubles at mid-season. Fleming went six for six to kick the Eskimos into next Sunday's Western final in Vancouver.

And all week leading to that game -- where there has been a great quarterbacking controversy about whether Casey Printers or Dave Dickenson should start -- there's no controversy about who should start for the Eskimos: Maas or Ricky Ray.

Maciocia won't say.

But I say Maciocia has no choice. Not now.

In hockey terms, you gotta go with the hot goalie.

Maas, unlike Printers, played the part of the great team guy all year and waited patiently until Maciocia could wait no longer for Ray to get his game together.

Tom Higgins's Calgary Stampeders were doing everything to give the game away, but until Maas went out there to make magic, the Eskimos refused to receive.

FLAMING CHOKE JOB

Make no mistake. The Stampeders lost this one before the Eskimos won it. It was a capital 'C' flaming choke job by Calgary before it was an inspired victory by the Eskimos.

Higgins lost his first playoff game as coach of the Eskimos against the Stampeders in a game that featured Maas at quarterback, and the remarkable total of 12 turnovers.

"That's why this one felt so good," said Maas of the 2001 West final.

"It makes it sweeter."

This one featured only half as many. But that's a total of 18 turnovers by teams he coached in Battle of Alberta playoff games.

Calgary was favoured, but for the 36th time in the 57-year history of the flagship franchise -- the 28th during the remarkable record run of 34 consecutive seasons in the playoffs -- the Eskimos have advanced to the CFL West final.

"I just did what I thought was right," said Maciocia of finally having Ray on a leash and Maas ready in the bullpen.

"It's something I thought about all week long. I didn't tell the quarterbacks and I didn't say anything to the coaching staff, but I wanted Jason to see things from the sidelines," said Maciocia.

"As long as I'm a head coach I don't expect to ever run into a guy that's as good a team player as Jason Maas."

NOT DEMANDING START

Maas said he's not demanding the start.

"I have a lot of respect for Ricky Ray and for Danny Maciocia," he said.

"I'll be there for the team and do what they want me to do. Ricky played all three games against B.C. and did well in them. He has a lot more experience against B.C. I have experience, too. If they decide to go with Ricky, I'll support that 100%. I'll be ready to go, let's put it that way."

Maas said he wasn't really ready to do this until about a month and a half ago because of off-season surgery.

"It's only been a month and a half that my arm wasn't sore in practice.

"But after I was totally healthy, I began to think it was never going to happen."

Maas said it tasted great and felt good.

"I'm going to relish this for a little while.

"I stayed in Edmonton all last winter and heard all the talk about us and all the talk about me for my part," he said of a 9-9 season while Ricky Ray was away with the New York Jets in the NFL.

"I used it as fuel for my fire. I just wished it wouldn't have taken this long," he said of getting a chance to contribute.

"I have a lot of great memories here. My first game was here. My first touchdown pass was here."

Maciocia not only brought in Maas, he actually called a handoff to a running back instead of a QB sneak -- after refusing to call a running play from the one -- because the ball carrier has to run five yards, compared to one by the quarterback.

"If we'd tried it again, it would have got stuffed again," said Maas of the Mathieu Bertrand TD.

Maciocia was a humble winner.

"My dad told me to be humble because humility may be 24 hours away."


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