Kavis Reed, when he first designed a defence to try stop Ricky Ray, failed spectacularly.
It was 2005. The Edmonton Eskimos head coach was then defensive co-ordinator of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. And Ray completed 25 of 36 passes, threw five touchdown passes and produced 369 yards of total offence in a 36-30 Eskimos win that day.
“Do I remember that? How could you ever forget that?
“I’d managed to convince myself that the way to beat Ricky Ray was to come at him with all sorts of pressure. I figured you could make him human by hitting him.
“That turned out not to be the case.
“He handled the pressure. He took the hits. He kept getting back up. And then he got into a rhythm and …
“A couple defensive backs got cut after that.
“That’s the day I came to understand about Ricky Ray’s toughness. That’s the day I learned to never underestimate him.”
Reed learned well.
And that’s why in a monumental mismatch on paper in Ricky Ray vs. Steven Jyles, the Edmonton Eskimos should be favoured Saturday.
Since that game in 2005, Ray only beat a Reed defence once. Only once did he manage more than a single touchdown pass in any of those games since.
In three more games as defensive co-ordinator of the Tiger-Cats, Hamilton won all three and Ray only managed one touchdown pass combined against four interceptions.
In 2007, Reed was a defensive coach with the Toronto Argos for an 18-11 win — Ray was injured and didn’t play in the 33-8 Argo victory to follow.
The Argos defensive co-ordinator was on the losing end of a crazy 47-28 game in 2008 in which Kerry Joseph threw three interceptions — Toronto couldn’t stop the run and the Eskimos returned a punt for a touchdown. Ray was restricted to 213 yards passing and had a touchdown and an interception. Reed didn’t let the QB beat him. And Toronto won the second game by restricting Ray to one TD pass and keeping him under 300 yards.
In 2010 Reed was the defensive co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and masterminded the defensive effort in a 47-21 win in which Ray threw two interceptions and was held to 202 yards. Ray was injured for the other game against Winnipeg that season.
You get the idea.
There’s hope here.
Since that five-touchdown, 25-for-36, 369-yard introduction to Ricky Ray, Kavis Reed-coached defences have a 6-1 record against him, held him to less than 300 yards six times with only five touchdowns scored against five interceptions thrown.
Reed has had 61/2 months along with defensive co-ordinator Mark Nelson to game-plan going against the future Hall of Famer.
“I came to believe that the way to be successful against Ricky Ray is to be as patient as he is.
“Make him hold on to the football.”
Reed, who lost old mentor Rich Stubler to the B.C. Lions as defensive co-ordinator, decided to change alignments this year. And he didn’t play some of his key people in the pre-season.
But he’ll be demanding they’ll be ready for the first series.
“You can’t let Ricky Ray start with a successful drive,” he said. “That’s not going to win for us.”
Considering the emotional challenge Ray has to face and the time and attention Edmonton has placed on this game for what it means on a number of different levels, this might be the toughest game Ricky Ray ever has to play.
“I don’t think there’s any question that for us, this is a very important football game,” said Reed after putting the Eskimos through their final full practice prior to Saturday’s season opener against the Argos.
Reed, prior to training camp, said this game was so important to the season that he was planning to spend 75% of training camp preparing for this one game against a team with a new head coach and new offensive philosophy.
How much of his Montreal Alouettes offence will Scott Milanovich bring with him, how much will remain from the run-orientated offence the Argos had last year, how much will be what Ray has had here over his career and how much will be new?
“It’s one thing to have time to prepare. But how do you prepare? It’s like flying a plane at night without radar.”