Put those Grey Cup plans on hold

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

EDMONTON - It was a big build-up for a large letdown.

There were 45,672 fans in the stands on an exceptional 28 C September evening with the smell of football in the air.

The largest crowd by more than 10,000 in the CFL this year was ready to embrace the Edmonton Eskimos after their 35-7 win on Labour Day win in Calgary. But the Stampeders were ready to embrace them in an entirely different way.

The 30-20 score suggests it was a game. It wasn’t.

The Stampeders essentially did to the Eskimos what Edmonton did to Calgary, without the 35-7 score to emphasize it, thanks to two Henry Burris interceptions and another two fumbles which turned into 24 points on Labour Day.

The roles were reversed in time of possession on Friday, especially in the first half when it was 19:54 to 10:06 for the Stampeders, with Ray completing only three passes.

Friday night Calgary had the running game and Edmonton didn’t. Friday night the Stampeders were making the plays and the Eskimos were making mistakes.

If Jerome Messam catches the touchdown pass that he dropped on the first possession and if Chris Thompson doesn’t tip Henry Burris’s Hail Mary pass into Nik Lewis’s hands for a touchdown, maybe there could have been a second miracle to go with the Miracle in McMahon on Monday.

“You always knock the ball down instead of tipping it in the air,” said Eskimos’ head coach Kavis Reed — a former defensive back — about Thompson’s play.

As for Messam making a mess of his, Reed chose his words carefully.

“I don’t know if it changed the game but I know it was an important play.”

The Eskimos had a tremendous opportunity here. But like so many teams that win the first game in this back-to-back Monday-Friday Labour Day business, they didn’t match the dialed-up determination of the team that lost the first game.

“We didn’t execute very well,” said Reed. “Calgary did what they needed to do to win. They took advantage of the opportunities we gave them. We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities they gave us.”

The win is Calgary’s fifth consecutive victory in the annual rematch and its seventh straight win on the road dating back to last season.

It was a pretty good scene for this young Eskimos team all week in Edmonton.

Indeed, the pot started percolating when they sold 178 tickets online during the second half of the 35-7 Labour Day win in Calgary.

That might have been more tickets sold then than in the entire four days between games last year, when the Eskimos were victims of the worst Labour Day Classic drubbing — 52-5 — in the then 45-year history of the event. The result was the only crowd in the 22 year history of the return match in Commonwealth Stadium of fewer than 40,000. Indeed it was 35,349, about the same size of the gathering that watched the B.C. Lions beat the Eskimos 36-1 in the previous home game, to set the record for fewest number of points scored by the Eskimos in a home game in 40 years.

So much of the build-up to the letdown involved the return of Stamp killer Fred Stamps to the lineup. But he didn’t see the football in the first half and ended up with only two catches for 39 yards.

“Calgary did a good job of double coverage,” said Reed of the bracket coverage on Stamps.

“They had a guy high and low,” said Ray, who had a big second half to end up 21 for 34 for 345 yards.

Stamps said he “felt fine” but said the team “got lazy.”

Something was lost in several directions this day.

For four days the Edmonton-Calgary rivalry was back, as the two teams with the 6-3 records met after the Eskimos won the season series with the big win in McMahon. And maybe it will remain on through to the playoffs where the Eskimos remain very much in the hunt.

But they’re back to being the hunters instead of the hunted.

“We had a real opportunity to take hold of the Western Division,” said Ray.

“You always feel bad when you have a crowd like that and the fans bring such good energy. We didn’t give them the chance to get their enthusiasm into the game,” said Ray.

After all those seasons of failure since the 2005 championship year, it was there for Grey Cup fever to kick in if the Eskimos won this one. And it isn’t there this morning.

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