Just a matter of time

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

It's the TOP statistic.

It's the stat that can take you to the top.

In the Eastern Conference semifinal it was the stat that told the story.

And it's generally agreed by both the Montreal Alouettes and the Edmonton Eskimos that it's the stat that will decide who gets to go for glory in the Grey Cup.

The Eskimos are headed to the Eastern Final in Montreal because of 'Time Of Possession.'

Edmonton didn't lead the league in many statistical categories this season, but TOP was one in which they did. That was the stat that beat the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg in the Eastern semifinal. And it's damn sure the one they'll need if they're to manufacture the major upset in Montreal.

"You've got that right," said head coach Danny Maciocia. "It's going to be huge."

To beat the Alouettes you have to keep Anthony Calvillo and his high-powered offence off the field. While the Eskimos lead the league in TOP, the Als lead the league in all those other categories: most points scored, most touchdowns scored, most first downs, most total offence.

LONG DRIVES

"It's important, especially against these guys," said quarterback Ricky Ray. "Our best defence is our offence, keeping A.C. and those guys off the field. We need to sustain long drives."

Call it 'Beat The Clock.'

"If we can control the clock, we can control the game," said veteran offensive lineman Dan Comiskey.

The Eskimos won the TOP battle 35:33 to 24:27 against the Bombers, having the ball almost 11 minutes more in the first half and virtually two quarters to one after three quarters of play.

Winnipeg's offence shivered on the sidelines while Ricky Ray kept the Bombers' defence on the field and played both quarterback and time keeper.

"Time of possession was one of the five key ingredients we identified for this team at the start of the year. It keeps our defence fresh for the fourth quarter," said offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman.

"The key to being able to bring the excitement back, go vertically and win the time of possession, as we attempted to do this year, is time management," said Maciocia.

"We had to know how to manage the clock. We made a commitment to it. We were successful because we have a quarterback who is so cool and composed."

The two regular season games in which the Eskimos looked worthy of getting to a Grey Cup game were the Labour Day win over the Stampeders in Calgary and the fall trip to B.C. when they beat the Lions.

In Calgary, the Eskimos won the TOP stat 36 to 24, while in B.C. it was a season-high 37:33 to 22:27.

There's a lot involved in time of possession.

"It starts with the protection being really good like it was against Winnipeg and in some of our other big wins," says Ray.

"If you control the line of scrimmage and don't turn the ball over, you can have a big time of posession number."

It doesn't work if you're just spinning your wheels with a dink and dunk offence like the Eskimos had last year. And you can't have your offensive line doing nothing but pass block all game.

SO MANY WEAPONS

"The key is efficiency on first down. We did a good job with that last week. As important as it was last game, it's more important in this game because Montreal has so many weapons," said receiver Kamau Peterson.

Added Shannon Garrett, the Esks' longest-serving vet: "Montreal is the same type of offence as we have. We're talking about keeping their offence off the field and I'm sure they're talking about doing the same with ours."

Indeed.

"We have to control the clock," is how Calvillo put it Monday.

"When we beat them in Montreal we were on the field for a long time and kept them on the sidelines," he said of the 40-4 blowout when the Als won the time of possession 35:16 to 24:44.

"It was the other way around when we played them in Edmonton," he said of the game he sat out. Edmonton won that one 37-14 and had a TOP edge of 33:41 to 26:19.

"Both teams know it will be important to go out and move the ball and control the clock," said Calvillo. "There's no secret in this game about how to beat the other team."

It's the TOP statistic.


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