A Ray of hope

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Ricky Ray to the rescue. He may have saved a season and a streak.

"He is the reason they won and we didn't," said Calgary Stampeder head coach Tom Higgins.

"He did a beautiful job to get his team back in the playoff race."

Seasons can turn on something like this and maybe one just did.

The Edmonton Eskimos made Ray the highest paid quarterback in the league and he earned every cent of it in the final minute last night to bring them home alive in a battle to extend their record streak of making the playoffs to 35 seasons. Oh, he waited long enough.

It took Ray 59 minutes and 54 seconds to get a touchdown.

Ray couldn't find Jason Tucker, his No. 1 receiver, to save his skin.

But then, with 25 seconds left, he found him for his first catch.

Then he found him again for the winning touchdown with six seconds to go.

Like a stiff version of Spaghetti Legs Jackie Parker a half century earlier, Ray found a somewhat less fluid way to make a play when he absolutely had to have one. Once, in that final drive which started on the Edmonton 14 yard line with 1:57 to go, he allowed three defensive backs to take a shot at him instead of sliding to get every yard he could.

But in the end it ended up in the endzone and coach Danny Maciocia didn't have to defend the two safety touches and conceded single, which were the margin of victory and the "gadget play'' fake punt which turned into a touchdown which put Calgary into the lead.

Instead Tom Higgins watched Ray ruin his day in what his team called 'Tomonwealth Stadium' after the ex-Eskimos coach pulled out a win in the Labour Day Rematch last year.

"He has pocket mobility. He can make people miss. He can see downfield. He's the reason they won the football game,'' said Higgins.

Maciocia went through the wringer to get the win and once again almost saw his team give it away with penalties and mistakes late after answering his call for pride early and throwing a near-perfect game in the first 20 minutes.

DAMN PENALTIES

"We earned everything out there tonight,'' said Maciocia. "Every yard.

"In the end it was almost those damn penalties again, but ...''

In the end it was Ricky Ray.

"Ricky Ray is the best quarterback in the CFL. He's light years ahead of anyone else. Did you see that drive? Did you see him slide? No you didn't. Three different defensive backs, one at a time, had a shot at him. He was unbelievable. When the chips are on the line there is no one better.

"Last year 80% of the fans wanted Jason Maas. Who was the MVP of the Grey Cup? He's a winner. He was a winner tonight.''

The winning touchdown, with the Eskimos set up on the 2 1/2 yard line, was essentially.

In that situation, you can almost always expect a team to go to the play they have in their pocket all season for a two point covert. Did the Eskimos?

"Actually, ya,'' said Ray.

Was that the same two-point convert 'A' play they had around here when Higgins was the coach? "No,'' he said.

Ray said he's not planning to turn into a broken-field runner.

"When I'm one-on-one with a guy, I can avoid getting hurt.''

Ray out-first-downed Henry Burris 25-16, drove the Eskimos to 441 yards of offence to Calgary's 161 as he went 23 for 33 for 281-yards passing.

When they passed out the first quarter statistics in the press box, you almost expected them to be framed.

There wasn't a single negative until the 7:58 mark when Patrick Kabongo took a holding penalty. And the next play, Ray hit Mookie Mitchell for a pass 54 yards.

The Eskimos scored on their first three possessions, albeit field goals after twice failing in the red zone, once from the two. The time of possession was 11:55 to 3:05 in favour of the Eskimos at that point.

Then rookie sensation Adam Braidwood hit Henry Burris and popped the ball to Charles Alston who took it 20-yards to the endzone.

The Eskimos led 16-0 five minutes into the second quarter and suddenly the though occurred that 11 more unanswered points and the Eskimos would win the season series.

"When we were up 16-0 I couldn't help but think that all those field goals and not being able to convert from the red zone was going to come back and hurt us.''

It was such a later-arriving crowd for this one, at that point it looked like it suddenly swelled by about 10,000, making you wonder if there were that many people driving around the block waiting to see if the Eskimos were even going to give the Stampeders a game.

A WIN'S A WIN

They gave them a better game than a lot of people were starting to believe they had in them. And they gave them a win in a season in which, so far, you can count them on one hand.

"It's huge,'' said Ray of the win.

"We've been losing close games like that all year long. This time we came through.''

On the last play of the game there was no Milt Stegall to run it back 100-yards for the win or Jason Johnson fumbling the snap for the winning field goal.Instead there was Braidwood sacking Burris in the endzone and falling on the ball for another touchdown.


Videos

Photos