Good Hank. Bad Hank. Sad Hank.
The 103rd Grey Cup had all three on Sunday as Ottawa Redblacks quarterback and former Ticat Henry Burris and his team fell 26-20 to the Edmonton Eskimos in Winnipeg.
Burris, who was critical of Hamilton head coach Kent Austin this week and has expressed displeasure over the nature of his departure from the Ticats after the 2013 season, threw for 220 yards on 22 of 29 passing, two touchdowns and an interception. He has now lost two of the last three Grey Cups as the starting quarterback.
“It hurts a lot. It’s disappointing not to come out with a victory, especially when you fought so hard and got this thing turned around with all these young guys in this locker-room,” a dejected Burris said afterwards.
After almost throwing a pick six on his pass of the game, Burris completed seven straight passes as the Redblacks stormed out to a 13-0 lead before the Eskimos had run their first offensive play. But it was his interception with just over minutes to go in the first quarter that allowed Edmonton to score their first points and – more importantly – to regain some much-needed confidence.
But it wasn’t as if Burris was solely to blame. Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly finished 21 of 35 for 269 yards and two touchdown passes and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player as he led his team to the come-from-behind victory.
“The guys know how much of a warrior Mike Reilly is,” said receiver Shamawd Chambers, who was the game’s top Canadian with two catches for 49 yards. “We want to work hard so he can make those plays.”
The Eskimos exploited the rookie Ottawa defensive back Brandon Sermons all night. Added to the roster because of an injury to Jerrell Gavins, was playing in his eighth game of the season and making just his second start.
And it was Sermons who was the goat on the key play of the game. With just over four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Sermons collided with Edmonton receiver Derel Walker deep in Redblacks territory. No flag was thrown but replay officials ruled pass interferences after Edmonton coach Chris Jones threw the challenge flag.
Two plays later – on third down from the one yard line – short-yardage quarterback Jordan Lynch punched it in for a touchdown and the winning points
There would be no miracle comeback for the Redblacks this time. A week after stunning the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with a 93-yard fourth quarter touchdown to win the East Final, Burris took a sack with just over two minutes to play and Ottawa was forced to punt. They never got the ball back.
The victory was Edmonton’s 10th straight to end the 2015 season – they last lost on Labour Day – and completes a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that was just 4-14 two years ago. Jones, rumoured to be candidate in Saskatchewan for a dual general manager-head coach role, deserves bringing the Eskimos their 14th championship in franchise history.
“I’d do anything for that man,” Reilly said of his head coach. “There’s no one else I’d rather fight to the death for.”
As for Burris, he says he’s coming back for a 18th season in 2016, when he’ll be 41-years-old.
“I wanted to get it for my family, the guys in this locker-room, and for the city of Ottawa,” Burris said. This isn’t it. We’ll be back and we will get it done.”
Notes: Attendance was announced at 36,634… Ticats offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski was at the game, tweeting “I’ve been a good sport & enjoyed all the #GreyCup103 festival events. But now with kickoff approaching my bitterness is rising!”… former Ticats offensive lineman Brian Simmons was a healthy scratch for Edmonton.