The garbage guys

Quarterback Jason Maas savours the moment after the Edmonton Eskimos booked their place in the...

Quarterback Jason Maas savours the moment after the Edmonton Eskimos booked their place in the Western final with a come-from-behind win against the Calgary Stampeders Sunday. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

CALGARY -- From player to player, the whisper moved through the Edmonton Eskimo locker-room at halftime.

Jason Maas was being handed the ball -- and the opportunity to save the team from playoff failure.

Starting quarterback Ricky Ray had thrown nine incompletions in the first half, making it 12 consecutive quarters the Calgary defence had made his life miserable.

Edmonton was trailing by 11 points in the West semifinal and it was now or never.

"(The word) filtered down and we said we were going to rally behind Maas and we were going to do what we can to get open for him and make plays," said receiver Ed Hervey.

A comeback scene straight out of a movie became a reality for the Green and Gold at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

Maas engineered four scoring drives in the second half to lead the Eskimos to a 33-26 victory, propelling the club into the Western final in Vancouver on Sunday against the B.C. Lions.

'TRULY AMAZING'

"It is quite a credit to (Maas) to be able to stand on the sidelines and watch 18 games and then come in and play that well," said offensive lineman Kevin Lefsrud.

"It's truly amazing."

But that word -- amazing -- actually described Stamp QB Henry Burris and the Stamps' running game in the first half.

In fact, Edmonton looked dead to the world after the second quarter.

Burris had scored two touchdowns with his two feet and missed just two pass attempts. The Stamps had rushed for a whopping 152 yards. If it wasn't for Sean Fleming's four first-half field goals, it would have been 23-0 at halftime.

Needless to say, it looked bleak to the few hundred Eskimo faithful in the crowd of 26,799.

But underneath the west grandstand, there was a very different mindset in the Eskimo dressing room.

"We were within 11 and with two scores we thought we could get it done," said Hervey.

"Our defence was playing great and turning the ball over."

And that is a major part of this story.

"Their defence aided the turnaround," admitted Calgary head coach Tom Higgins.

The Stamps coughed up the ball a stunning six times -- and the Green and Gold finally made them play.

In fact, the game turned on two plays.

Calgary's all-star running back Joffrey Reynolds fumbled the ball in Edmonton territory in the fourth quarter.

Four plays later, Maas found receiver Jason Tucker for a 25-yard major, the first aerial touchdown for the Eskimos in 23 quarters.

"I knew I was one-on-one with the halfback and it was a great throw, he put it right where he needed to put it," said Tucker, who watched the ball plop right into his hands with a foot to spare in the corner of the end zone.

SUDDENLY LEADING

Thanks to a one-yard TD run by Mathieu Bertrand three minutes earlier, the Eskimos were suddenly leading 30-23 -- and the Stampeders were never able to recover.

"It was so good for the guys to turn it around," said Maas.

Fleming iced the victory with his sixth consecutive field goal with 46 seconds left, giving him a near record-setting performance for a CFL playoff game.

It was all part of an upset win over a Calgary team that had outscored Edmonton 81-39 in 10 quarters before yesterday's tilt.

"I am extremely happy," said Hervey of not having to see a garbage day today to clean out his locker.

"But I am happy Calgary is seeing the garbage bags (today) because they talked a lot of trash.

"It burned us up but we just said we were going to take care of business ... and now we will see them on TV picking up the green garbage bags and taking their stuff home."


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