Different coaching staff. Same results for the Edmonton Eskimos.
Joe McKnight’s 85-yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game as the defending Grey Cup champion Eskimos beat former head coach Chris Jones and the Saskatchewan Roughriders 25-11 on Saturday in CFL pre-season action.
“I feel like our team has a ton of veterans that just won a Grey Cup and understand how to win,” said new Edmonton head coach Jason Maas.
“They had a new coaching staff to get used to, three new systems to be implemented and toward the end of camp, they finally started to get everything and buy in. I think they’re understanding exactly what we expect from them and we just expect them to be better every day and compete hard.”
Edmonton finished exhibition play at 2-0, while Saskatchewan went 0-2. The Eskimos will host Ottawa in a Grey Cup rematch next Saturday to open the 2016 CFL regular season, while the Riders have an opening week bye to start the campaign.
“We’ve got to come back and get to work,” said Saskatchewan coach Jones. “As you saw today, there is a lot of work still to do. But you aren’t going to panic over a pre-season ball game where you play 75 people.”
It certainly didn’t take the Eskimos long to get going, as quarterback Mike Reilly made a 59-yard pass to Derel Walker on the first play of the game to set up a five-yard TD pass to Chris Getzlaf before the game was a minute-and-a-half old. Reilly only stayed in the game for the first two Edmonton possessions and finished 8-of-9 passing for 132 yards.
After adding a single, Edmonton came close again late in the first quarter, but Adarius Bowman was stopped at the one-yard line on a third-down gamble.
Edmonton tacked on a Sean Whyte field goal and kept the Riders off the board as Cord Parks picked off a Darian Durant pass at the Eskimos’ eight-yard line. On Saskatchewan’s next possession, Durant was intercepted by Tyler Thornton on the Edmonton 23. Durant finished 11 of 19 for 153 yards with two picks.
The Roughriders finally got on the scoreboard in the final minute of the second quarter, as John Chiles ran one in from the five to make it 12-8 Edmonton at the half.
The Eskimos once again stuffed a big Saskatchewan drive six minutes into the third quarter as Josh Woodman picked off Riders QB Phillip Sims in the end zone. On the next play, McKnight blazed 85 yards on a handoff to put the Esks up 19-8. Whyte added field goals of 35 and 48 yards before the end of the quarter.
Saskatchewan responded with a field goal of its own in the fourth, but could come no closer.
As far as coming back to play against the team he guided a Grey Cup to, Jones said it was probably better to get it over with in the pre-season.
“People act ugly and call you names when you walk on the field, unfortunately,” he said. “But it is just part of it. It’s pro football. When you leave somewhere where you have been successful, you take it as a compliment.”
Notes: It was the first game the Eskimos played against their former head coach Jones, who left the team to be the GM and coach in Saskatchewan, taking eight assistants and five players from Edmonton with him? The Esks came into the game with 11 consecutive wins – eight regular-season games, one Western Final, one Grey Cup and last Saturday’s 23-13 pre-season victory over Calgary? The Roughriders lost their only other pre-season tilt 28-16 to the B.C. Lions.