Maas could be party pooper in Grey Cup

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

To a lot of football folks in Vancouver, Jason Maas is a party pooper.

But actually, the Edmonton Eskimos backup quarterback loves a big bash.

By charging off the bench and delivering the winning touchdown toss in last Sunday's Canadian Football League West Division final against the hometown Lions at B.C. Place, Maas got to celebrate a couple of things in grand style: his 30th birthday and the Eskimos' return to the Grey Cup.

Edmonton will battle the Montreal Alouettes in the 93rd Grey Cup tomorrow (6 p.m. on CBC) at B.C. Place.

Grey Cup organizers, of course, were hoping the Lions would represent the West.

And things looked good until Maas went to work, for the second week in a row, in relief of Ricky Ray. Maas, a six-foot-two, 210-pound University of Oregon grad, finished off a 49-yard touchdown drive by hitting wide receiver Trevor Gaylor with a 15-yard TD pass with 5:23 remaining, which lifted the Eskimos to a 28-23 triumph.

Maas's magic must have felt like a punch in the gut to Vancouver's Grey Cup organizers -- as well as to the Lions and their fans.

Nobody west of the Rockies saw it coming. The Lions seemed like such shoo-ins to play in their own Grey Cup game, to be front and centre in the week-long Canadian football festival. Their 11-0 start to the season had everyone on the left coast pumped.

Then everything came apart. The team that couldn't lose suddenly couldn't win. Actually, it was the Eskimos who ignited the Lions' implosion. On Sept. 24, Edmonton, led by a swarming defence, Tony Tompkins's 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Ray's passing (26-of-30 for 260 yards and a touchdown), defeated the Lions 37-20.

The Lions never got back on track, losing seven of their last eight -- including the West final -- amid injuries, allegations of strife in the dressing room and a quarterbacking controversy that, just this week, Wally Buono said will be addressed in the offseason.

The Lions' loss to the Eskimos means Cup organizers have had to shift gears.

Nothing will change the fact that 59,000-plus tickets have been sold. But with the local squad nowhere in sight, will the fans decide to stay away?

Hopefully, organizers have been successful this week in selling the game as a uniquely Canadian experience, which, of course, the Grey Cup is -- regardless of who's playing. If Vancouverites don't get over their disappointment, there could be lots of Lions' fans disguised as empty seats.

This year's Eskimos-Als final is being dubbed by some as the rubber match because Montreal defeated Edmonton 25-16 in the 2002 Grey Cup and the Eskies turned the tables, 34-22, in 2003. Actually, these giants have met in 10 previous Grey Cups since 1954, Edmonton winning seven times.

Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia has been second-guessed for sticking with Ray as his starter, including for tomorrow's game. I like the decision. The Eskimos know Maas can come off the bench and deliver.

I love Maas's attitude: "We won two playoff games with me coming off the bench," he said in last Sunday's aftermath. "If we win a third one (that way), I'll be just as happy."

With Ray, the Eskies don't know what he's like as a sub. Stick with what you know.

Meanwhile, Maciocia is a Cup rookie as a head coach. Als mentor Don Matthews has been around the block a time, or two -- or three. Matthews has been in 15 Grey Cups since 1977 and is looking for his record sixth championship. Give the Als the edge in coaching.

I like the Als on special teams.

The Eskimos are the better of the two defences.

Offence? Now that the Eskimos have Troy Davis to carry the ball, both teams have lethal attacks. Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo, probably the best of the championship game pivots, has reason to fear the Eskies' pass defence. Along with an outstanding pass rush, the Eskimos have the skill in the secondary to successfully play man-on-man.

With running back Robert Edwards down and out with cracked ribs sustained in Montreal's 33-17 East final victory over Toronto on Sunday, the Als might be in trouble.

But they have Eric Lapointe, an ex-Mt. Allison Mountie who captured the Hec Crighton award as the outstanding player in Canadian university football in 1996, to step in. Lapointe scored three touchdowns and ran for 112 yards against the Argos.

Edmonton was my preseason pick to win it all, so . . .

Cody's call: Eskimos 30-24


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