EDMONTON - They weren’t perfect, but the Edmonton Eskimos offensive line answered the call.
After taking most of the heat for allowing an average of six sacks in each of their last three losses, the front five punched up a sack-free performance in Monday’s Labour Day Classic.
And it came despite having a new centre, a tackle-turned guard and a pair of tackles who were playing just their second-ever CFL game.
The 35-7 victory was bittersweet for veteran centre Aaron Fiacconi, who was placed on the nine-game injured list with a torn rotator cuff following the bye week and was replaced by Kyle Koch.
“It’s the first game in a long time I had to watch in civilian clothing, which was a tough situation,” said Fiacconi, who will miss the entire second half of his 10th CFL season. “But the guys won a good game. And these guys are going to get better and better, which is good to see.”
Friday will be just the second game in a row for the configuration of left tackle Devin Tyler, left guard Brian Ramsay, Koch, right guard Greg Wojt and right tackle Chris Patrick.
And, while they didn’t exactly keep quarterback Ricky Ray upright the whole game — a facemask on the opening play negated a would-be sack, while linebacker Robert McCune steamrolled him into the turf just after he released the ball — they kept the Stampeders off the sack column.
“There were a couple early in the game where they were able to get to us but it was kind of more their good scheme getting to us,” Ray said. “But that’s the thing, on a couple of them I went through maybe one or two reads and then got out of the pocket.
“That’s what you’ve got to do sometimes as a quarterback. You can’t always just sit in there forever. You’ve got to have your clock going and get out of there if you don’t see anything.”
Or else he’d be seeing a close-up of the turf.
Ray wasn’t the only one making the effort of avoiding the sack to help the new line mesh, after being disassembled since taking a nosedive after starting the season 5-0.
“We definitely wanted to get back to running the football and have a little misdirection, which we were able to do with some shovels and different things,” Ray said. “We wanted to have a few plays in there where we wanted to get rid of the ball a little bit quicker as well.
“So definitely we’ve tried to make a conscious effort of just speeding things up and kind of allowing those guys to build that rhythm together.”
But Koch and Co. aren’t about to start believing their own freshly created hype.
“Yeah, it was nice to play well. It stopped the bleeding,” said Koch, who started a game at centre and three at guard this season prior to Monday’s game. “What you did last week doesn’t mean anything any more.
“Honestly, man, we don’t worry too much about what everybody’s saying but it’s nice to see Ricky standing up doing his thing. That’s what we did at the start of the year. He was standing up, throwing balls and we were having a good time getting hands up doing those kinds of things.”