Eskimos putting pieces together
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
|Argonauts linebacker Anthony Cannon chases Eskimos running back Jerome Messam at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 21, 2011. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - A football team, maintains head coach Kavis Reed, is one big, giant jigsaw puzzle. And the objective is to put it all together by ... well, about now.
That’s what Edmonton Eskimos’ fans have to believe they’ve been watching happen these last three weeks as Rich Stublers’ part of the puzzle, his ‘Little Gnats’ on defence, came together first.
If they can ignore that bizzare bit of business at the end as a 31-3 blowout became a 31-24 last-play, great escape, this was making the big move at the top of the stretch.
The horrifying late game boneheaded calls by the offensive co-ordinator and assorted other brain-dead bits of business took away from it all.
But if you can ignore almost giving your season away by sheer stupidity, you can make the case that this was actually the night where the season came together with the final pieces of Marcus Crandell’s part of the puzzle.
Maybe that major mess at the end was the equivalent of somebody kicking the legs out from under the table and spilling the pieces of the puzzle all over the place again, but let’s guess not.
Friday night, against a good defence, the Eskimos finally figured out how to use Jerome Messam’s rushing to set up the big play. And in doing so, the Eskimos finally got Fred Stamps back in business as a big-play player and Ricky Ray back in business as a 300-yard passer.
While Edmonton had already clinched a 53rd appearance in the playoffs in 63 seasons, it was a night when the Eskimos moved one win (or one Calgary loss) away from making it the 41st time they’ve finished in either first or second place to guarantee a home playoff game, the first, however, since 2004.
With the win, the Eskimos now have a chance to finish first in the West for the 23rd time and first time since Tom Higgins coached the team to the top with a 13-5 record in 2003.
With Stubler’s defence putting together a third consecutive dominant game on defence (at least until all that stupid stuff at the end), that group is not only together and flying around and playing with passion, they look like they’ll be the core of this club which could stay and grow together for several seasons.
But it was the offence, which was a high flying three ring circus act to start the season before losing all four starting receivers at the same time Messam was experiencing challenges handling his early season success and becoming a pro and the offensive line was going throuh a major overhaul, which came undone.
Now, forgetting that finish Friday night, they all appeared to have come back together.
It was the national coming-out party for Messam who received major media coverage as the Brampton kid coming home to Toronto a CFL star.
This night he carried 19 times for 115 yards to move his season total to 964 yards and put him in position to become the first Canadian running back to have a 1,000-yard season since former Eskimo Sean Millington — who had 2,010 with the B.C. Lions back at the turn of the century. Normie Kwong holds the CFL and Eskimo team record at 1,433 and also produced 1,250, 1,050 and 1,033 yard seasons in the ’50s.
And now he goes back to BC Place where his former teammates pushed his buttons and got him to retaliate and get ejected when he had a 12-carry for 70-yards game going.
Now the Eskimos head to B.C. and a showdown for the first-place playoff bye as a team in balance with Ray going 17 for 29 for 337 yards with two touchdown passes and a carry for another one; Stamps catching seven for 129 yards to hit the 1,000-yard plateau; Adarius Bowman hauling in three for 82 despite a quadruple-bobble, dropped pass; and Jason Barnes grabbing two for 54 and a touchdown.
And they’ve got that sickening show at the end of the game, to scare themselves silly between now and the season showdown for first place against the B.C. Lions next Saturday in BC Place.