Eskimos drop the ball

Eskimos slotback Jason Barnes runs the ball in for a touchdown while being tackled by Lions...

Eskimos slotback Jason Barnes runs the ball in for a touchdown while being tackled by Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips at BC Place in in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 29, 2011. (NICK DIDLICK/Reuters)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:53 AM ET

EDMONTON - It was a chance to finish first for the 23rd time in their history and host the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2003. And the Edmonton Eskimos didn’t show up.

How does that happen?

Down two touchdowns after the first two series and they put themselves in a position to have to chase the game for the rest of the night.

When they had a chance to catch it, Fred Stamps dropped it when he was wide open for a touchdown run.

And twice his best friend and New Orleans neighbor, veteran Chris Thompson took killer penalties.

Jerome Messam was stopped in his tracks and there were others who didn’t get it done, either.

Maybe it’s because they are a young team with 23 of the 46 players and 12 of the 24 starters being new Eskimos but every time they’ve put themselves in position to accomplish something this season they’ve failed to seize the moment.

That was definitely the deal Saturday night as the Eskimos lost 29-20 to the B.C. Lions in the remodeled B.C. Place Stadium where they could have been one win away from returning to for the 99th Grey Cup.

“We came back and fought hard,” said Ricky Ray on his cell phone from down in the dressing room on a tight deadline.

“But on offence, we have to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.”

This team hasn’t learned to seize the moment, he admitted.

“It seems like we’ve been playing to get to first place and putting ourselves in the spot with a great opportunity and then not making the most of it.”

How could they not show up?

Isn’t that effectively what Eskimos coach Kavis Reed told TSN at the half when he said: “We made some mistakes mentally and physically.”

They talked about it early in the week.

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

The Eskimos admitted they needed to head to B.C. with a killer instinct, 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.”

First place isn’t gone.

But the Eskimos have lost control of their own destiny.

A Montreal Alouettes win Sunday over the Calgary Stampeders would at least guarantee the Eskimos their first home playoff game since 2004.

But to get first they’d then have to win at home Friday against Saskatchewan at Commonwealth Stadium and have the Lions lose their last one to the Als in Vancouver on the last game on the schedule.

“Maybe more than anybody here I know how valuable that first place is in this league being one game from the Grey Cup,” said Ray.

“Now we no longer control our own destiny. Now we have to beat Saskatchewan and hope Montreal comes in any helps us out.”

One way or the other, Western Semifinal or Western Final, the organization waits to put the tickets on sale.

The Eskimos have about 20,000 season-ticket holders who took the option for playoff tickets and are delighted the team clinched it this week.

It gives them three weeks to sell the game.

“We’re ready to go which ever way it would go,” said CEO Rick LeLacheur.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of interest and excitement in having a playoff game again.”

The tickets for the Western Final should have been on sale Sunday. But they gave the game away.

Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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