Esks gunnin' for first

Ricky Ray eludes B.C. tacklers when the Eskimos visited Vancouver in September (Ben Nelms, Reuters).

Ricky Ray eludes B.C. tacklers when the Eskimos visited Vancouver in September (Ben Nelms, Reuters).

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 PM ET

EDMONTON - Three weeks ago, linebackers Rod Davis and Greg Peach, stood up and made the proclamation.

The Edmonton Eskimos, they declared, had set themselves a goal of finishing the season like they started it – by going 5-0.

They’d not only provide the first home playoff game in Edmonton since 2004, the stated goal at the start of the season, they’d finish first and play host to the Western Final for the first time since 2003.

Now it’s there.

Suddenly, it’s one game against a team which had an eight-game winning streak going until they crashed and burned with a 42-10 loss to the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton while suffering several injuries to key personnel.

One game, Saturday night in Vancouver and they could be one game away from the Grey Cup.

It’s been such a gloriously stupid season in the CFL that almost anybody finishing anywhere is believable.

But with the Eskimos, who currently have 23 players on the 46-man active roster, 12 on defence, who weren’t here last year.

Eleven of those players are starters!

Either way, that’s half a team.

This is a win away from being ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ material.

As the Eskimos prepare for the first place showdown in The Big Donut, the $563 million remodelled stadium with the new hole in the middle, it’s a fair question.

Are the Eskimos, losers of six of eight in the middle of their season, really a legitimate first-place team?

“Yes, we are, and I can’t wait until Saturday to prove it,” said Davis.

“First you’ve got to think it.

“Then you’ve got to believe it.

“Then you got to know it.”

Davis said the Eskimos have gone through those three stages in the last three weeks, one game at a time.

“Now, Saturday night in Vancouver, it’s time to prove it.

“I wish B.C. hadn’t lost last week. I wish we had the chance to go in there and end a nine-game winning streak. This is a team which embarrassed us on our own field before the bye week,” he said of a 36-1 loss.

Davis thinks what’s happening here with the Eskimos you should start to see from the stands now.

“We know we’re coming together,” he said of the defence which can now claim, with statistic evidence, to be the best in the league.

“We’ve learned each other now. We meet together as an entire group, even on our off days. That’s starting to show now on game days. Once guys start to see the results, they buy into it even more.”

And they’re buying into what they’re seeing on the other side of the ball.

“I see guys on offence busting their butt to get better. Defence is easy. All you do is hit and tackle people. And special teams involves mostly defensive guys. Offence is a little more tricky to come together. But we see that happening now, too,” he said of Jerome Messam giving them balance with the running game and the offence learning how to use the run to set up big plays and get Fred Stamps back in business as Ricky Ray’s No. 1 weapon.

“We have a great opportunity in front of us,” said the quarterback.

“Finishing first, getting the bye and the Western Final at home is such a huge deal in this league. We’ve put ourselves to be in that position.”

And part of the position they’ve put themselves in is to be playing against a team which just lost big and has suffered 11 known injuries of differing degrees in the last two weeks including ones to running back Andrew Harris and quarterback Travis Lulay Saturday in Hamilton.

First-year head coach Kavis Reed said it’s all there for his team now and they know it.

“It’s the ideal situation for us. We’re in complete control of our own destiny.”

And he thinks the beginning of the game could be the key to the ending.

“I don’t think they trailed in a game during that eight-game winning streak,” he said.

The Eskimos need to head to B.C. with a killer instinct mentality, intent on establishing their will early.

“That would be huge for us,” said Ray. “With their injuries and coming off a loss like that, we want to

establish doubt in their minds early.”

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos