EDMONTON - When life gives them lemons, the Edmonton Eskimos try and make lemonade.
But they were left with a sour taste in their collective mouths after allowing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to come back from a 10-point deficit to claim their first victory of the season on Thursday.
Leading 21-11 in the third quarter, the Eskimos appeared to have things in the bag when defensive end Shawn Lemon — playing in place of the injured Marcus Howard — put the squeeze on quarterback Alex Brink with a sack that pushed the Bombers out of field-goal range, only to breathe new life into their comeback by giving them the ball back on the zany punt play that followed.
“It was a weird play,” said Eskimos head ocach Kavis Reed. “It’s a situation where we make a play, but they were smart and because of the speed they play at, they had the opportunity to capitalize on another mistake that we made.”
Eskimos defensive back Hugo Lopez deflected the ball as it was booted by Bombers’ Mike Renaud, sending it back above the scrum where it bounced around and was eventually scooped up by Bombers defensive back Jeremy McGee, who set his offence up just 24 yards from pay dirt.
The Bombers would score a touchdown on the shortened drive, with running back Chad Simpson making a 20-yard reception before hoofing it the rest of the way, allowing the Bombers to trail by three heading into the final frame.
The punt was a momentum-shifter, to say the least.
“To be honest, I’m not quite sure what happened (on the play),” said Eskimos leading special-teams tackler Mike Miller. “The punt was blocked and I actually went up to go catch it and got hit before the ball got there, so I figured it was a no-yards situation.
“But they said that it didn’t pass the line of scrimmage or somebody touched it behind the line of scrimmage — I don’t really know how that rule works, but, yeah, it was kind of confusing for us.”
If the officials did see it hit Miller and become fair game for the Bombers, too, he can’t really be blamed for following his instincts.
“Exactly, I saw it in the air and just wanted to go catch it,” he said. “As I went to go catch it, and it was just a bad bounce right into the guy’s hands and he took off.”
And in a one-point game, every bounce counts.
“It’s terrible because it’s a situation where we’re going to give our offence the ball and then we give their offence great field position,” Miller said.
In fairness, it may have been karma evening things out after Eskimos punter Burke Dales retrieved his own 18-yard punt in the opening quarter to give his offence a boost.
But the ‘onside punt,’ if you will, wasn’t intentional.
“No. That was just Burke being a veteran,” said Miller, a native of Moncton, N.B., who is heading home for the bye week. “He knew exactly what to do and Burke’s always looking to get his nose dirty. He’s a beauty on punts, so he ran right after it and got on it.
“He’ll come up to us and ask any of us if we’re getting double-teamed and he’ll come and help us out.
“Burke embraces contact.”