Eskimos defence gets it done

Edmonton Eskimo head coach Kavis Reed, left, celebrates with Marcus Henry after the Eskimos 33-19...

Edmonton Eskimo head coach Kavis Reed, left, celebrates with Marcus Henry after the Eskimos 33-19 win over the Calgary Stampeders following the CFL West semifinal at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday. Amber Bracken, QMI Agency

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:38 PM ET

You can find flaw with the way they won. But the bottom line is that they found the way.

A team which missed the playoffs last year and which hasn’t been in a West Division final since they last won the Grey Cup in 2005, the last time it was in Vancouver, is going to B.C. to play the Lions just as they did that year.

For the 38th time in their 63-year history, the Edmonton Eskimos are in a division final – 37 western and one eastern, the crossover loss in Montreal in 2008.

With 25 new players on the 46 man roster this year, the team Eric Tillman rebuilt and Kavis Reed rebooted with what now must be considered a Coach of the Year season, the Eskimos scored a 33-19 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in their first home playoff game since 2004 to advance.

“There’s absolutely a lot of pride in what we accomplished (Sunday),” said Kavis Reed.

“That was our first post-season game at home in a long time. I think this team made a statement in terms of pride. We came into this game expecting to go deep into the playoffs and maybe play in the last game of the season.

“The character of the team (Sunday) spoke for itself,” said Reed. “That’s a huge win.”

You could definitely chose to write it that Calgary lost this game every which way.

Two turnovers, one missed tackle for 56-yard gain and a roughing the kicker penalty left Calgary down 25-9 at the half and most people had to be wondering how the heck they managed that.

Drew Tate was picked off by T.J. Hill, but it was an ugly fumble by the kid who took over from Henry Burris with three games remaining in the season. But because of protecting-the-football issues, hehurt himself most with a fumble Damaso Munoz returned 76 yards for a touchdown. The missed tackle by Brandon Smith set up a score and a roughing the kicker penalty to Junior Turner gave the Eskimos a fresh set of downs that turned into another touchdown.

That’s what lost it for Calgary.

But consider what won it for Edmonton.

There were no turnovers.

And there was a dominant defence.

“It was huge. It was critical not to turn the ball over. And the defence really forced Calgary to work uphill from poor field position against a good defence,” said Reed.

“That’s what we’ve done a good job at all year,” said quarterback Ricky Ray. “We’ve done well at protecting the football and the defence getting it done for us.”

Ray, who is now 6-2 in playoff play, showed his will to win this day as the Eskimos played turnover-free football and did was defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler asked them to do — restrict their traditional rivals to fewer than 20 points.

“A lot of guys wanted this game,” said Ray.

“We haven’t won a playoff game around here for a while. It’s been a long time. I just wanted to have a solid game,” said the quarterback who was 19 for 27 for 245 yards passing.

“Whenever we don’t turn the football over we seem to have success.

“Missing the playoffs last year and making all the changes, I was just hoping we weren’t just going to be satisfied we made the playoffs.

“It was so good to see we had a team which dug deep and wanted more. It was so great to see guys who came to this game with expectations of going on. I think we have a team here which isn’t going to be satisfied with winning one playoff game, either.

“Hopefully it’s going to be about the Cup again like it was when I first came here.

Ray is only one of five Eskimos who were around in 2005.

“This year is eerily similar to that year. The difference is that when all three three teams went into the last week tied, we lost our game on the last week and finished third. This year we won it.

“Not a lot of us can relate to that year. But I can. And I can build off that.”

The other 41 guys who don’t own 2005 Grey Cup rings can build off what they accomplished Sunday.

NOTE: Terry Jones, who is in Toronto to accept the Elmer Ferguson Award to enter

the Hockey Hall of Fame, is grateful to the Edmonton Eskimos for making Kavis Reed and Ricky Ray available by telephone after the game.

Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca 


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