Tucker's season-saving catch

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

It may not have been the greatest play in the 60 seasons of Edmonton Eskimos football. But there's every chance it could be the biggest play of 2008.

Ricky Ray threw a 36-yard pass to Jason Tucker in the shallow corner of the endzone with 55 seconds left to bring the Eskimos back.

Tucker, who normally takes that pass off his outside shoulder, had to take it inside and survive a whale of a lick to hold on the ball. But he did. And he may have saved the season in week two.

"I had him spinning around," said Ray.

"It wasn't a very good throw. But Jason has one spectacular catch in him every year.

"That was unbelievable."

But while it was a play to put into the all-time highlight vault, it was worth a lot more than nothing but 10s from the judges panel and a lot more than two points in the standings.

LOSING STREAK STOPPED

More than anything, the 34-31 win, which stopped the Eskimos losing streak at seven - one less than the last longest of eight dating back to 1971 - loosened the noose around the neck of coach Danny Maciocia.

And, more important, it unbuttoned the collars of the 60th edition of the Eskimos as they attempt to become a team with 21 more new players - for a running total of 155 different players wearing the uniform since they won the 2005 Grey Cup.

"Unbelievable catch," agreed Maciocia. "He caught it with one hand and even more impressive, survived that hit without dropping the ball."

Maciocia didn't want to talk about loosening the noose or unbuttoning the collars.

"We knew we were going to have some growing pains. It's a huge win. It's what we have to live and experience," he said.

"To have the lead all game long and lose it ... we lost a lot of games like that in the fourth quarter the last two years," said Ray.

"That means so much to coming together as a team at this stage.

"Winning is a habit. The first thing you have to do is win. And what a great way to be able to do that," said the quarterback who had his first 400-yard plus passing game (448) since 2005 and found the endzone three times, including throwing passes for 27 and 36 yards on the final two plays to win it.

So where were we before the Edmonton Eskimos went over to Saskatchewan and made such a mess of their season opener?

Oh, yes.

Improved offensive line. Improved defensive line. Improved special teams. An actual return game. A philosophy to be a much more entertaining team going vertical far more often.

There was next to no sign of any of the above for openers in Regina last weekend, but it was a different story for home openers last night as the Eskimos looked a lot more like the football team they're supposed to be this year and a lot less like the one they've been these past two years.

Hold on.

The Eskimos hardly found a cure for the lack of a running game, the defensive secondary looked highly suspect and the Eskimos record of badly sagging in the second half was still in evidence.

While there was still no running game (Damien Anderson slipped and fell on a second and three and failed to convert two other second down running plays for first downs).

The first sign that this was going to be something entirely different than the week before came when Tristan Jackson returned a punt 39 yards and Ray threw a 33 yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage on the second possession of the game (after Anderson's slip made it a two-and-out on the first one).

His second touchdown involved three plays for 70 yards with Kamau Peterson starting the series with a 51-yard reception.

Ray had big play passes of 51, 36, 35, 33, 27, 22, 21, 21 and 20 yards and picked up another 33 on a pass interference penalty.

But it's how you leave them and this one was a barn burner and a win when they really needed it.

CROWD NOT THAT LARGE

Despite a 60th season promotional pre-game party at Clarke Stadium, a perfect evening weather-wise and the provincial rival Stampeders as opposition, the crowd count was "only" 32,706, a few hundred fewer than the 33,508 the Eskimos drew for the pre-season game against Saskatchewan.

By comparison, two years ago, after losing their first game on the road, the Eskimos played the Stampeders in their home opener and drew 40,491.

You can make the case the Eskimos needed this win as much on the business side as the football side.


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