The Eskimos win was almost as dramatic as the first half of Thursday night’s doubleheader. The only difference is the defence is what made the noise this time around, rather than the offence.
Since 2016, after Chris Jones left Edmonton to head for Regina fresh off a Grey Cup win, these clubs have a history that shows either wide-margin victories where one team rolls (See Week 10’s 54-31 Riders 2017 win, or the Esks 15 point victory in the rematch later that year), or the two 2016 matchups, where Edmonton won by three and eight points, respectively.
Thursday was one that can be chalked up to the tight-knit affair category.
It was the first time these teams squared off this season, and it’s been a tale of two seasons so far.
The game marked the fifth win and third straight for the Empire, while Saskatchewan falls for the second consecutive week and fourth loss.
It could have gone either way, and I imagine the Roughriders are singing the “we let this one slip away,” tune.
With that being said, here are a few of my takeaways from the victory over the 26-19 Edmonton Eskimos victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Edmonton Eskimos started off slowly.
Wait, I’m sorry, that’s a force of habit. Let me try that again.
The Edmonton Eskimos jumped out to an early lead. A quick strike from Mike Reilly to Derel Walker jump-started the offence, as C.J Gable scored just a couple plays later. They jumped out to an early lead. An early. Lead.
(I had to type ‘early lead’ three times to try and break the ‘slow start’ habit).
Granted, it was on their second drive after an early two and out. But that’s still pretty damn good for a team that’s been notorious this year for needing a longer warm-up than their opponents, usually using their first quarter for it.
The major was the first time in five games the Esks had scored a touchdown in the opening quarter and had a minus-24 in point differential.
So that happened, which was great, and then not much else happened for a bit, thanks to strong defence from both squads. The game stalled out, a long Sean Whyte boot being the standout for an otherwise quiet first half.
But the quiet is where all the noise was coming from.
You know who had a quiet half? Duron Carter. You know, the guy with the Twitter account?
He was back on offence for the first time this season, with the return of Nick Marshall in the backfield. We’ll get to Marshall in a minute.
But first, let’s bring to light how Carter received zero targets in the first half, not so much as a look from returning QB Zach Collaros.
I guess from Mike Benevides’ standpoint, the best way to defend Carter is for the Riders themselves to render him useless, and as a placeholder.
That defensive ‘game plan’ collapsed on quite literally the first chance Carter got. The defensive back turned back to receiver easily hauled in a 41-yarder after blowing past Aaron Grymes in the second half.
So that’s why he plays receiver. Maybe he should play it more often. That snag launched an offensive outburst from both clubs that helped open up the game.
It took until Week 8, but the CFL world finally got to witness a Jason Maas tantrum.
The coach who has never been shy of venting his frustration or making a statement took on a Gatorade cooler. It wasn’t pretty, it actually looked like he had a tough time with the whole process, but I’m going to give him a solid 8/10 for the effort. Perhaps a five or lower out of 10 on the execution.
Whatever do you mean? pic.twitter.com/LK1fzpT4nZ
— Grey Cup Fun Police (@GCFunPolice) August 3, 2018
The Eskimos were up by three at the time and apparently didn’t meet his expectations during the previous play.
What is it about Maas and being mic’d up that gets him all feisty?
Twitter loved the toss, and by loved it, I mean absolutely roasted him for it.
So, we’re moving on.
Let’s return to Nick Marshall for a second.
Marshall made his return to the lineup after recovering from an injury and his first matchup couldn’t have come against a tougher opponent: the ferocious Duke Williams.
Williams has been a nightmare all year for defensive coordinator’s and DB’s alike, so you’d think he’d make good eatin’ of a guy coming off the six-game injured list. Rather, it was the opposite.
Marshall looked like he hadn’t missed a step, and challenged Williams during toss up balls and he played the star tight from the snap of the ball.
Williams was held without a catch until the fourth quarter, in what turned into a brief momentum shift.
The speedster hauled in a grab and ran 98-yards for an apparent score, only to be called back after a review which rightfully determined he was down by contact courtesy of his former QB Marshall, settling for a 17-yard first down.
The pair played together for Auburn University in 2014, where Williams racked up five touchdowns and a respectable 730 yards. Marshall chucked for over 2,500 yards to along with 20 touchdowns in the air and 11 on the ground.
The Tigers ended up losing the Outback Bowl to the Wisconsin Badgers that year.
Mike Reilly looked…off.
He finished with a completion rate under 50 per cent for the first time this year. His second lowest was a shade over 59 per cent against the Argos in Week 5 and heading into the game was leading the CFL with a 68.7 per cent completion percentage.
The Esks always look for the big plays, no matter the score or situation. They tend to live and die by the deep ball. Thursday was no different.
What was different, is that I’m not sitting here reiterating the absolute talent No. 13 in the green and gold is. I’m telling you, that he’s human.
Who would have thought?
The QB who could eclipse the 6,000 passing yards mark this year just didn’t look himself. Reilly had a mere six completions heading into the final quarter, while he faced more pressure than usual. The Esks offensive line had only allowed four sacks heading into the game, but Reilly was taken down four times this week, to go with a forced fumble.
The O-line missed Justin Sorenson, who was placed on the one-game injured list with a calf injury. They had Jacob Ruby on right guard, and David Beard at centre this time out.
During the eventual game-winning touchdown drive that ended in Reilly himself punching it in, he turned a second and 15 into a 46-yard gain with a toss to Kenny Stafford, before another 15 to Walker. In that drive, he looked as good as he has all year, and that’s what elite quarterbacks do. They piece it together when they need a score no matter what the game has thrown at them previously.
Also of note, he was shown limping in the second quarter after a play. It was touched on briefly, but nothing really came of it and he didn’t miss any time.
Almondo Sewell was in the thick of things, as he tends to be on most nights.
He timed snaps well and swallowed up anyone who dared to challenge him and broke up plays. One particular series stood out, however, where he went from zero to hero really quickly.
The big man made a big stop on third on inches on their own goal line, just a few plays after jumping offsides and extending the drive on what would have been a chip shot field goal.
The Esks did nothing with it offensively and conceded a safety, but the tackle prevented six, likely seven points – Edmonton’s eventual margin of victory. In my mind, that play made all the difference.
While we’re on the topic of their defence, they once again shutout another team in the second quarter. That’s the third time this year they’ve accomplished such a feat. The secondary did miss a few tackles, specifically on a couple of Marcus Thigpen jaunts, but it ultimately led to little. They also ended the first half where they forced three consecutive two-and-outs.
Another game, another strong performance by Derel Walker.
In the early going’s, Walker was the adrenaline shot for the Esks offence when it was on life support. Reilly stumbled with a 6-for-17 start through the air but was able to rely on Walker to come down with the ball and move the sticks.
Walker was responsible for 138 of the first 146 passing yards Reilly had. He ended up snagging almost 20 more and a touchdown for his troubles. He just missed matching his standout Week 1 performance of 176 yards and a score, a tough one to replicate.
Let’s talk about penalties, and how they weren’t too much of a factor in this one, which once again goes against the norm of the 2018 Eskimos campaign.
Committing just seven infractions totalling 59 yards, the club did far better in avoiding shooting themselves in the foot.
That’s a far cry from the same guys who took seven in the first quarter last week, and 17 overall which cost them 191 yards.
Maas has been preaching discipline all year, as penalty trouble has constantly been a talking point. He doesn’t want his players to overreact to a situation, and make a fool out of themselves by letting anger or frustration get the best of them. Huh.
The Roughriders got the best of the Esks on special teams. It was tough to contain Christion Jones, both on kickoffs and punt returns.
The 25-year-old averaged 21.5 yards over his four kickoff returns, and 13.6 from his five punt returns. The Alabama product is in his second year with Saskatchewan and the CFL. He broke a few tackles, which is something that’s slowly becoming a bad habit for Edmonton, and put his club in strong field position more times than not.
Thigpen, on his lone kickoff return, grabbed 24 yards off Edmonton’s special unit.
The Eskimos will gun for their fourth straight win against the B.C. Lions on the road, which will mark their third consecutive Thursday Night Football appearance.
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