Replay would be a-OK

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Play it again, Sam?

OK, there is no Sam on the Edmonton Eskimos unless you count practice roster player Sammy Okpro. And they haven't been able to play it again.

That's the big problem as the Eskimos head to Montreal today for Saturday's Eastern Conference final against the Alouettes.

They can be good once. But can they be nice twice?

The Eskimos went to Winnipeg for the semifinal knowing they were capable of winning a big game on the road.

They'd proved to themselves they could come up with a large grade A game on Labour Day in Calgary and again a month later in Vancouver, winning on the road against the two teams who meet in the Western final to get to the Grey Cup.

But, beat up after those very physical efforts, the Eskimos weren't able to follow through the following week, losing the second games of those back-to-back sets to the Stamps and Lions -- the only two games the Eskimos lost at home all season.

That's the No. 1 reason it's tough to pick the Eskimos to do again this week against the Montreal Alouettes.

As was the case last week, the host team is favoured. Last week the Bombers were 2 1/2 point favourites. This week the Als are favoured by six.

But in some ways this is the same game.

The Bombers were given way too much credit last week -- and the Eskimos not enough. Edmonton was 10-8 with a 5-5 record against the West, a team that had managed at least one win against every team in the league. The Bombers were 8-10 and had registered five of those wins against hapless Hamilton and terrible Toronto. And there was a mismatch at quarterback with Ricky Ray vs. Kevin Glenn.

Once again, the Eastern team is being given too much credit for its record.

The Alouettes may have dominated the East, but their 11-7 record is not significantly different than the 11-8 record the Eskimos bring to Olympic Stadium. The Als were 3-5 against the tougher teams in the West, and no less than six of the Als wins were against the toothless Tiger-Cats and awful Argos.

A more accurate accounting may be the team's records against the teams which make up the final four in the CFL this year.

The Eskimos are 5-4 and the Als 2-4.

You can debate how much to make of the Eskimos 40-4 loss in Montreal or their 37-14 win over the Larks in Edmonton with quarterback Anthony Calvillo and six starters not dressed.

And there's definitely no quarterback mismatch here with Ray vs. Anthony Calvillo.

But there's room to debate Montreal's move to sit Calvillo and six starters for the rust it might leave and what the win might have meant to the Eskimos coming off that 55-9 loss to Saskatchewan.

And there's the built-in stuff with so many teams losing the final coming off the bye week and the long list of teams that have played host to the Grey Cup and gagged on the final at home that would have got them to the big game.

In the case of these two teams, there's also 11 Grey Cup games -- of which the Eskimos won eight.

But mostly, to me, the hang-up here is that the Eskimos haven't proved they can follow one big win with another one. Can they play it again?

"Our story so far this year is not following through after a big win and taking the next step. If we don't take the next step now, then we go home," said Ray of a team looking to win a third game in a row for the first time since winning the Western semi, the Western final and the Grey Cup in 2005.

"What happened in the middle of the season happened in the middle of the season. This is win or go home," said the longest serving Eskimo, Shannon Garrett. "We learned from a couple of games during the season that just because you win one game doesn't mean you're all-stars."

Labour Day may have been the biggest lesson.

"We can't relax and feel good about ourselves like we might have after the Labour Day game," said offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman.

"You learn lessons during the regular season you put to use in the playoffs," said Kamau Peterson. "I don't think there is any way we can be overconfident or self-satisfied going against a well-rested team like the Alouettes in Montreal.

The final word went to veteran offensive lineman Dan Comiskey. "This is a new season, a three-game season," he said. "Just go out and win. You don't red-shirt and you don't lift up your skirt."

Whatever that means.


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