No running back, no kicker, no problem for the Edmonton Eskimos.
Mike Reilly ran in a pair of touchdowns and passed for two more as the Eskimos took sole possession of first place in the CFL with a 37-26 victory over the B.C. Lions on Friday, despite losing starting running back Travon Van and kicker Sean Whyte during the game.
The Eskimos remained the only undefeated team in the league, upping their record to 5-0.
“I’ve been a part of football for 30 years and this is the grittiest win I have ever seen,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas.
“That many guys go down and we don’t have a kicker or punter for a good part of the second half. To be able to grind out a win against a great football team, that’s pretty impressive. I’ve never been a part of anything like this before. I am very proud of our locker room right now.”
The Eskimos had 14 players out with injuries heading into the game, including the likes of running back John White and receiver Adarius Bowman, and likely saw that list grow by several more on Friday.
“I don’t know if I have every seen anything quite like this,” Reilly said. “It’s in our cards to deal with unfortunate injuries and test our depth to the max.
“It was a gritty win, for sure.”
The Lions dropped to 4-2, with both of their losses coming against the Eskimos.
“They played better than we did and we continually self-destructed,” said Lions head coach Wally Buono. “We took too many penalties, which kept their drives alive and kept them on the field and eventually those turned into points.”
Edmonton didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard, as a 65-yard passing play from Reilly to Duke Williams on the first play of the game set up a 14-yard TD pass to Brandon Zylstra just 74 seconds into the contest.
The Eskimos added to their lead with a 44-yard field goal by Whyte, before Lions kicker Ty Long nailed a 49-yarder to make it 10-3.
Edmonton had a couple of things start to go wrong late in the first quarter when Reilly threw an interception for the first time this season and Van left the game with a neck injury.
However, Edmonton got its momentum back early in the second as Reilly connected on a pass to Vidal Hazelton, who took the ball all the way to the end zone on what would end up as a 108-yard touchdown _ the longest reception in Eskimos history.
B.C. battled back late in the second quarter with a 17-yard TD pass from Travis Lulay to Emmanuel Arceneaux. Edmonton countered with a 41-yard field goal to make it 20-10 at the half.
The Lions came out roaring in the third quarter, getting a field goal and then scoring on a third-down gamble when Lulay passed for a five-yard TD to Jeremiah Johnson to tie the game up.
Edmonton regained the lead midway through the third, as an 86-yard kickoff return by Chris Edwards set up a 19-yard field goal by Whyte, who then left the game with a lower-body injury.
The Eskimos were fortunate when what looked like a failed third-down attempt was deemed to be pass interference upon review, leading to a one-yard TD plunge by Reilly early in the fourth. The two-point convert attempt was no good.
Reilly scored on another one-yard plunge with 2:14 remaining to build up a cushion, adding a two-point convert pass to Hazelton.
Lulay scored a two-yard rushing TD with 53 seconds remaining, with the convert attempt missed.
The Eskimos play host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next Friday, while the Lions head home to play the Saskatchewan Roughriders next Saturday.
Notes: All of Edmonton’s victories in its first four games came by four points or less. The Eskimos honoured long-time equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak, who worked his 1,000th game with the team on Friday.