The Toronto Argonauts extended the Edmonton Eskimos’ misery Saturday, riding a big man and several big plays to a 34-26 victory.
James Wilder Jr., ran 11 times for 190 yards and one touchdown, collecting 67 more yards on seven passes. Martese Jackson returned a missed field goal for a 125-yard touchdown. And Matt Black, doing his best Undertaker imitation, buried Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly on a blitz that ended a late Edmonton comeback.
The Eskimos scored 11 unanswered points late in the fourth – and had a TD called back – to make it interesting.
“We’re involved in a major transformation of trying to find out who we are as a team,” said Toronto coach Marc Trestman. “We found a little bit more out tonight.”
Down by eight points, the Esks had the ball at their own 37 with 2:12 remaining and Reilly hit Bryant Mitchell for 60 yards after a Toronto defender tripped. Facing a third and seven at the Toronto 10 after Edmonton lost a pass interference challenge, Reilly was hammered into the ground by Black.
“It felt like a clean shot,” said the defensive back, who was cut and then brought back earlier by the Argos this season.
Edmonton coach Jason Maas disagreed, calling it a blatant head-on-head hit. But he had run out of challenges.
It’s been a cruel reversal of fortune lately for the Eskimos (7-5-0), who opened the season with seven straight wins. Edmonton last lost five straight in 2013.
With a bye week coming, Maas told his player afterwards they had gone 6-0 in the first third of the season and 1-5 in the second.
“I told our guys ‘Enjoy your families, enjoy your time off. And the only question I want you to ask is what is the third six going to look like?’ It is going to look more like the first six or is it going to look more like the second six?’
“And my money’s on the first six … We’ve got a lot of football ahead of us.”
It marked only the fifth win by an East team against the West in 26 outings (4-21-1) this season. Coming into the game, Toronto (5-7-0) had lost two in a row and five of its last six. And the Argos were 0-5 previously against the West.
Only 13,182 were on hand at BMO Field to see a wild late-afternoon game on a warm Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night.
Jackson and Wilder broke the Eskimo spirit, with Wilder helping neutralize the Edmonton pass rush while keeping the Edmonton offence off the field. The Argos came into the game ranked last in the league averaging just 65.4 yards rushing.
Jackson raced down the sideline like an Exocet missile midway through the third quarter after punter Hugh O’Neill, filling in for the injured Sean Whyte, missed a 42-yard field goal. Jackson’s spectacular score gave Toronto a 31-15 lead but did not beat the club record (129 yards) for a return on a missed field-goal return.
Wilder was a one-man wrecking crew, racing 76 yards for his first CFL TD and accounting for 50 yards on another Toronto TD drive. Chosen over Brandon Whitaker on the day, the Florida State big man continued to carve his way through the Eskimos in the second half.
“He made some people miss but I thought our offensive line really blocked well,” said Trestman.
“Coach Trestman could have run through those holes,” said Wilder, adding: “No offence to coach Trestman.”
Previously this season, the six-foot-two 232-pounder had run 40 times for 177 yards in 12 appearances. Wilder, whose father is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ all-time leading rusher, spent time with Cincinnati and Buffalo before joining the Argos as a free agent in March.
Toronto’s Ricky Ray threw a TD pass to Armanti Edwards and backup Cody Fajardo hit S.J. Green. Lirim Hajrullahu kicked two field goals.
Edmonton’s Reilly threw touchdowns to Brandon Zylstra and Trevor Van, who also ran in for a TD. O’Neill added a field goal and single.
Down 7-0 early, the Argos led 24-14 at the half after scoring on four straight possessions.
Edmonton only managed a single in a poor third quarter but outscored the Argos 11-3 in the fourth.
The Eskimos cut the lead to 34-23 with a Reilly TD throw to Van and two-point conversion at 6:38 of the fourth. And things got interesting when Adam Konar intercepted a tipped Ray pass to take over at the Argo 33.
Toronto intercepted right back, but the play was negated by an illegal contact penalty. A Reilly TD throw to D’haquille Williams was called back on a challenge for offensive pass interference.
Edmonton settled for a field goal, cutting the lead to 34-26.