Matt Nichols goes down in first half, Edmonton Eskimos bring in Mike Reilly in pre-season loss to Saskatchewan Roughriders

Mike Reilly fends off a tackle during first-half action against the Saskachewan Roughriders Friday...

Mike Reilly fends off a tackle during first-half action against the Saskachewan Roughriders Friday at Commonwealth Stadium. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:44 AM ET

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos opened their 2013 preseason by keeping the Saskatchewan Roughriders out of the end zone for 59 minutes.

But it was the last one that made the difference in a 31-24 loss by the home team at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday.

And the 26,623 in the stands watched the Eskimos lose more than a preseason game after Matt Nichols went down with a knee injury at the end of the first quarter.

“I kind of felt bad for what happened to him, but it’s football so you’ve got to just keep moving,” said Eskimos receiver Ed Gant, who reached back on a slant pattern but couldn’t catch the pass from Nichols, which bounced into the hands of defensive half Carlos Thomas for a touchdown-return interception.

Nichols was pushed to the turf by defensive end Kenny Rowe on the play and ended up leaving the stadium on crutches.

“He’ll get better and he’ll be back out there,” said Gant, who had four receptions for 66 yards.

Nichols finished with five completions on seven pass attempts for 88 yards and two interceptions, before Mike Reilly four of nine for 102 yards, an interception and a 77-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaiah Sweeney.

“Some good things, some bad things,” Reed said of his quarterbacks’ performances. “For the most part they were good, but we have to clean up some decisions.

“I was really pleased with the way they managed certain situations, but we definitely have to make certain that our decisions are good.”

The first quarter ended 10-7 for the Roughriders, combined with a 40-yard field goal by Chris Milo, while Edmonton’s only points came off a fumble by Roughriders receiver Taj Smith, which was stripped by defensive tackle Donny Oramasionwu and returned 58 yards to the end zone by cornerback Marcell Young.

After the Riders improved their lead to four points off a missed field goal, Reilly hit Sweeney on the long pump-and-go to lead 14-11 at the half.

The second half featured the other quarterback battle of Eskimos training camp, between rookies Jacory Harris and Jonathan Crompton — which may have become imminently more important with the injury to Nichols.

Former Eskimos kicker Brody McKnight tied it up with a 27-yard field goal before Harris ran a seven-yard scramble into the end zone while leaping over linebacker Anthony Heygood.

Harris finished four of six for 32 yards and run twice for 15 yards and the score, Jonathan Crompton gained 32 yards on two rushes and completed five of 11 passes for 60 yards and an interception.

But it was that interception that made the difference, after Tino Sunseri hit running back DeDe Dorsey on a one-yard touchdown pass to tie the score 24-24 in the last minute, before Saskatoon Hilltops junior player Graig Newman returned the Crompton interception 57 yards for the win.

Still, it was Edmonton’s defence that stood out in the mind of head coach Kavis Reed.

“I was very pleased, they got the ball in adverse situations after turnovers and they only accounted for a field goal and a missed field goal,” said Reed, who saw his defenders finish plus-three with Young’s touchdown. “I was very pleased with the way the responded to sudden-change plays.”

IN AND OUT: Eskimos RB Tavoy Moore left by the end of the first quarter with what the team called a lower-body injury.

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca

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